Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson one-upped Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos by announcing he too will travel to space – as many as nine days ahead of the Amazon founder.
Branson’s company Virgin Galactic said in a statement that he would be a “mission specialist” aboard the SpaceShipTwo Unity, which will go to space as early as July 11, “pending weather and technical checks.”
Blue Origin versus Virgin Galactic
If the schedule holds, Branson would make it to the cosmos before Bezos, who said he would travel to space aboard the New Shepard launch vehicle belonging to his company Blue Origin on July 20.
The two billionaires have founded rival companies to take tourists on short flights to suborbital space.
Branson “will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts.
“The Company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers,” Virgin Galactic said.
The company plans to live-stream the flight.
‘Vanguard’ Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft is not a classic rocket, but rather a carrier airplane that reaches a high altitude and releases a smaller spacecraft, the VSS Unity, that fires its engines and reaches suborbital space, then glides back to earth.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said.
“After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind.”
After this flight, two more tests are expected before the start of regular commercial flights in 2022.
Blue Origin readies for battle
Blue Origin’s maiden crewed flight comes in a context of fierce competition in the field of private space exploration — with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, all jostling for pole position.
Bezos has a very public rivalry with Musk, whose SpaceX is planning orbital flights that would cost millions of dollars and send people much further into space.
SpaceX has already begun to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and is a competitor for government space contracts.
Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, hopes to begin regular commercial suborbital flights in early 2022, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year.
Some 600 people have booked flights, costing $200,000 to $250,000 — and there has been talk of Branson himself taking part in a test flight this summer, although no date has been set.
© Agence France-Presse