Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin has its eye on UAE desert for spaceport

Company's Brent Sherwood tells 'The National' about New Shepard suborbital flights and the new private space station Orbital Reef

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is looking at the UAE’s desert as a possible location for a spaceport for tourists.

The company has successfully sent eight people into space through its New Shepard suborbital flights — including Star Trek actor William Shatner, 90, who became the oldest person in space.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programmes for Blue Origin, said the UAE was an “obvious choice” for a spaceport and that it was looking to expand its launch sites from the current one in El Paso, Texas.

“Now that we are operational for tourism, the next thing we are looking at is other locations around the planet to establish launch and landing sites for New Shepard,” he said.

Quote
A couple of nights ago I slept over in Sharjah and did some stargazing in the desert. It’s very promising to think about areas here
Brent Sherwood, Blue Origin

“It’s an obvious place to look here. All we really need is some desert. One of the endearing qualities of the West Texas desert is that it is hard to get to the El Paso airport. You have to drive for a couple of hours and it is in the middle of nowhere.

“A couple of nights ago I slept over in Sharjah and did some stargazing in the desert. It was only 30 minutes away from Dubai, so I think it’s very promising to think about areas here.”

Mr Sherwood was speaking to The National on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress, which is taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre until October 29.

Booking space tourism trips from the UAE

AzurX is a private company in Dubai that is working as a strategic adviser to Blue Origin and will work as a bridge between the UAE and space tourism company.

Anna Hazlett, chief executive of AzurX, told The National that it would be helping Blue Origin with its localisation strategy in the UAE, and would assist customers with space tourism flights and opportunities on Orbital Reef — a new private space station Blue Origin announced on Monday.

“The AzurX team is proud to assist Blue Origin in exploring Orbital Reef and space tourism in the UAE,” she said.

“We look forward to developing this exciting program with Blue Origin and bringing opportunities to the UAE, Emirati visionaries, entrepreneurs, and businesses.”

Orbital Reef would be a “mixed-use business park” that would provide easier access to a diverse group of people ranging from tourists to media, science and finance.

Are tickets affordable?

Blue Origin has not revealed the price of a ticket on a New Shepard flight, but one was sold for $28 million during an auction.

Mr Sherwood said prices are expected to decrease once reusable orbital vehicles become more common.

“Costs are coming down already, let's say even in the pricing of New Shepard suborbital seats, where we're seeing that price curve,” he said.

“The first seat was result of an auction and that was a lot of money, but the seats we’ve sold since were not sold for that price, they were sold for less.

“We have a database of interested passengers and we are observing that price point come down. It’s very exciting because we’ve only flown two human missions so far and we’re already seeing that decrease. That will continue as reusable orbital vehicles get more common.

“As to the question of getting all the way down to a price where you and I do it, that’s going to be a while and that’s going to be a long time coming, I think.”

He said Orbital Reef offers more of a “value proposition” than a “short ride to space”.

“With Orbital reef, I can go someplace. So, just like people come to Dubai because it's a destination in itself, it has these attractions and things that are unique in the world,” he said.

“That's what Orbital Reef will be. It’s not just going to space, it’s going to a place in space that has its own set of amenities and entertainments and all that.”

Rival Virgin Galactic signed an agreement with the UAE in 2019 for a spaceport. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the UAE Space Agency and Abu Dhabi Airports to use the Al Ain airport facilities for commercial space flights, but there has been no update on construction provided since then.

Updated: October 27th 2021, 9:24 AM
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