Blue Origin’s system launches vertically, and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land on a concrete pad at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes. Credit: Blue Origin.

The billionaire battle for space continues.

Blue Origin is just days away from making history with its first astronaut launch, which will launch the company’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Space.com reported. 

The mission, with Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket and space capsule, will lift off from the company’s  Launch Site One in West Texas near Van Horn at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), and yes, there will be a webcast — at Space.com and BlueOrigin.com

New Shepard will carry Bezos, 57; his brother Mark Bezos, 53; aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82; and physics student Oliver Daemon, 18, who is Blue Origin’s first paying passenger.  

Last week, billionaire Richard Branson became the first person to ride into space aboard a rocket he helped fund, CNN Business reported.

The supersonic space plane developed by his company, Virgin Galactic, roared into the sky over New Mexico early Sunday, carrying Branson and three fellow crew members.

The planned 11-minute ride to the edge of space with passengers has been a long-time coming for Blue Origin, which Bezos founded in 2000.

The company has flown 15 uncrewed test flights of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft, culminating in an “astronaut rehearsal” flight in April 2021. 

The company wants to fly paying passengers (and scientists with experiments, too) on trips to suborbital space that fly higher than 62 miles (100 kilometers).

To raise awareness for its First Human Spaceflight, Blue Origin held a public auction for a seat on the flight, which was won by an anonymous bidder for US$28 million.

But five days before launch, Blue Origin announced that the auction winner had opted out of the launch, citing schedule conflicts. Instead, Daemon joined the crew as his father Joes Daemon had submitted the second-highest bid in the auction.

Joes Daemen is the CEO and founder of Somerset Capital Partners, a Dutch private equity firm based in Oisterwijk, Netherlands.

At 18, Daemen would be the youngest person to fly to space, with Funk, 82, also set to become the oldest person to become an astronaut.

Branson has repeatedly denied that he and Bezos are in a billionaire’s competition to reach space first, but after the Amazon founder announced he would fly on his company’s spacecraft to the edge of space on July 20, Branson jumped the line and said he would board Virgin Galactic’s next space flight and beat Bezos by nine days (July 11).

Virgin Galactic plans to conduct just one more test flight before it will begin flying paying customers.

More than 600 people have reserved tickets priced at US$200,000 to US$250,000 so far. The company is expected to reopen ticket sales soon, though at a higher price point.

New Shepard, a rocket that carries a capsule to an altitude of more than 340,000 feet, is designed to carry up to six people and flies autonomously — without needing a pilot.

The capsule has massive windows to give passengers a view of the earth below during about three minutes in zero gravity, before returning to Earth.

Blue Origin’s system launches vertically, and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land on a concrete pad at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes.

Bezos founded Blue Origin and owns the company, funding it through share sales of his Amazon stock.

Tuesday’s launch date also happens to be the 52nd anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing.

Sources: Space.com, CNN Business, CNBC, NASA