Want a joyride to space? Jeff Bezos is taking reservations.
The Amazon founder's rocket company, Blue Origin, announced Wednesday that the first flight aboard its New Shepard rocket, designed to carry up to six tourists per flight, will take place July 20 and one seat will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The auction, on BlueOrigin.com, will be held in three parts, according to the company. The first phase, from May 5 to May 19, allows people to bid any amount on the website. After May 19, the bids will be unsealed, and on June 12, Blue Origin will hold a live auction to determine the winner.
The money raised will be donated to Blue Origin's foundation, Club for the Future, which promotes STEM education initiatives, the company said.
Blue Origin did not announce how much other seats aboard the New Shepard rocket would cost, though tickets are likely to be in the range of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The New Shepard rocket and capsule, which flies autonomously, will take passengers to suborbital space, past what's sometimes known as "the edge of space." Unlike orbital flights, the capsule won't actually circle the planet, but at an altitude of more than 62 miles above Earth, people will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the capsule and its parachutes touch down.
Suborbital jaunts will likely be out of reach for most people other than very wealthy individuals and celebrities, but the development heralds what could be an important new chapter for private spaceflight.
Blue Origin is one of several companies looking to capitalize on the nascent space tourism industry. The English billionaire Richard Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, is also aiming to fly passengers on suborbital space flights beginning in 2022. The company has said tickets will likely cost more than $250,000 each, but final pricing has not yet been announced.
Bezos' main rival, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, is planning to launch four passengers on an orbital flight later this year aboard his company's Dragon spacecraft. If successful, the expedition will be the first mission to space with an all-civilian crew.
Earlier this year, SpaceX also announced plans to launch three private passengers to the International Space Station next January. The three men are paying $55 million each to spend eight days at the orbiting outpost, according to SpaceX.
The company is already under contract to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but SpaceX's ambitions extend even beyond Earth's orbit. In 2018, the company said the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder and CEO of the fashion retailer Zozo, would be the first private passenger to fly around the moon on a mission that is planned for sometime in 2023.
SpaceX recently won a NASA contract over Blue Origin to build a module to land astronauts on the moon. Blue Origin is protesting the decision, and NASA has ordered SpaceX to halt work on the project until the dispute is settled. The two billionaire founders have publicly clashed as a result.