WASHINGTON — A controversial Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur revealed he submitted the high bid for a seat on Blue Origin’s first crewed suborbital launch earlier this year and, after missing that flight, is buying a dedicated New Shepard flight in 2022.
Justin Sun announced Dec. 22 that he submitted the winning bid of $28 million for a seat on the July flight of New Shepard that took Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and three others to space. The company did not disclose the winner’s identity at the time of the June 12 auction.
Sun, though, did not go on that July 21 flight, with his place taken by another customer, Oliver Daemen. Company officials said at the time that the winner could not go “due to scheduling conflicts.”
“I won the auction 6 months ago but missed the launch. However, this did not stop my love for space,” Sun tweeted. He announced that he would instead go on a dedicated New Shepard flight in the fourth quarter of 2022 on a program he called “Sea of Stars.”
Sun said he will be accompanied by five “space warriors” he will announce one at a time in two-month intervals. One will be a “prominent figure in the crypto world” while a second will be someone who is part of the decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, involved with a blockchain network called TRON.
A third person will be a technology entrepreneur while the fourth will be an artist “who has the wildest dreams of space and the future of humankind.” The fifth and final guest of Sun, he said, will be “a highly visible and socially influential celebrity, becoming a mystery guest to inspire more people to participate in space exploration.”
Sun released no details about any kind of nomination or selection process for these individuals, and his comments suggested that he alone will make the selections. “Right now I haven’t decided the specific names of the persons I will bring to space,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview Dec. 22.
Neither Sun nor Blue Origin disclosed details about the arrangement for the flight other than Blue Origin stating that he “came to an agreement” for that mission. The $28 million he paid in the auction went to Club for the Future, a charity affiliated with Blue Origin, who then distributed $19 million to other nonprofit organizations.
Sun is well known in the cryptocurrency field because of the TRON network he established and other ventures, such as acquiring the peer-to-peer software company BitTorrent. A September 2020 profile of Sun in The Verge included comments from disgruntled former BitTorrent employees who called Sun the “hype man of the century” and raised questions about workplace practices and product development.
Sun did not explain the scheduling conflict that caused him to miss the July flight, whose specific date was announced weeks before the auction. Coindesk, a publication that covers the crypto industry, reported in July that Sun was participating in a blockchain research project at China’s Central Party School.
Earlier this month, Sun announced he had been named as permanent representative of the Caribbean island nation of Grenada to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He said Dec. 22 he would be the “first Grenadian, international diplomat, and blockchain industry leader to go up to space.” Sun, who is from China, had no previously disclosed ties to Grenada and didn’t disclose how he was appointed to that post.
The Blue Origin auction was not the first time he bid on something only to back out, at least temporarily. In 2019, he placed the high bid of $4.57 million in a charity auction for a lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett. Just before the scheduled lunch, though, Sun said he could not attend, claiming to have kidney stones. According to the profile of Sun in The Verge, he backed out under pressure from the Chinese government.
That meeting with Buffett, a critic of cryptocurrencies, eventually took place in January 2020 in the form of a dinner in Buffett’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.