Blue Origin will pick a very rich future astronaut to fly to space alongside Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos, while also helping set a key benchmark for the space industry.

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The space company will auction off the much-coveted ticket on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. Pre-auction bidding closed at $4.8 million on Thursday, with prices jumping after Bezos announced on Monday that he would be on board.

Auction proceeds will benefit Club for the Future, Blue Origin's nonprofit foundation to encourage children's interest in space. The flight is set for July 20 and will mark the first crewed flight of the New Shepard rocket.

The auction winner will pay a hefty sum for an 11-minute trip that includes just 3 minutes of time in space.

The bidding amounts will help Blue Origin determine the market value for their future New Shepard seats, Laura Forczyk, the founder of space consulting firm Astralytical, told IBD.

It will also be interesting to see how space tourism competitors such as Virgin Galactic (SPCE) adjust their pricing in response, she added.

The New Shepard flight is suborbital but will send its passengers above the Karman Line, which is about 62 miles above Earth and is seen as the boundary between outer space and the upper atmosphere.


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Virgin Galactic shares dipped 0.4% to 35.26 on the stock market today. Amazon edged up 0.1%.

The July 20 Blue Origin flight comes as Virgin Galactic is reportedly pushing for a second rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo for the July 4 weekend, this time with founder Richard Branson aboard, according to the blog Parabolicarc.com. But that flight is contingent on approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

That would mark an acceleration of plans, putting Branson into space ahead of fellow billionaire Bezos.

On May 22, Virgin Galactic first launched SpaceShipTwo with two pilots and a NASA research payload. The company previously said the second test flight would include two pilots with a full cabin. Then Branson would be aboard a third flight.

In a note to potential customers reported by the Washington Post, Virgin Galactic said it was completing a data review and vehicle inspection "the results of which will determine our next test flight" and then listed three potential test flights but didn't say in which order they would be completed.

Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for space news and more.

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