Billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos will fly to the final frontier in their own spacecraft in July.
At 14:30 GMT on July 11, Virgin Group founder Branson, two pilots and three other passengers will take off from Virgin Galactic’s operating base at the US Spaceport in the desert of New Mexico. His crew will reach a maximum altitude of approximately 89 kilometers (55 miles) and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before gliding back to Earth.
Nine days later, on July 20, Amazon’s executive chairman Bezos will launch with five other people, including his brother Mark, from a launch pad in western Texas with a reusable rocket. . His crew will reach an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles).
Reach the edge of space
Branson is known for his daring tycoon reputation, his legacy in sailing and hot air ballooning. He intends to promote his rapid development of astronomical tourism by projecting into suborbital space.
Sunday’s launch will be Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE.N)’s first manned test flight to the edge of space.
The space plane will be released to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) by a twin-fuselage carrier jet named VMS Eve (named after Branson’s mother), where Unity will be released and powered by a rocket. An almost vertical climb soars the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere.
At the peak of the flight about 89 kilometers above the New Mexico desert, the crew will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to Earth. The flight is expected to last approximately 90 minutes and will be broadcast live.
Virgin Atlantic’s Unity 22 mission marked the 22nd test flight of the spacecraft and the company’s fourth manned mission beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.
Although the mission is seen as a potential milestone in helping transform citizen rocket travel into a mainstream commercial adventure, space flight remains an inherently dangerous endeavor.
In 2014, an early prototype of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert in California, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.
Branson’s flight on Sunday led rival Bezos and his aerospace company Blue Origin by nine days in the so-called “Billionaire Space Race.”
Bezos, the founder and former CEO of online retail giant Amazon, will take the Blue Origin suborbital rocket spacecraft New Shepard on July 20.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX are head-to-head in the emerging space tourism business, even though Musk has a big start.
SpaceX plans to put its first civilian crew (without Musk) into orbit in September, and has already launched a large number of cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station.
Who is on the boat?
VSS Unity has two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, who will control the ignition and shutdown of the spacecraft’s rocket engines and activate the vehicle’s “feather-like” tail maneuver to re-enter.
The other three mission experts are Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, chief operating engineer, Virgin Galactic; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of research operations and government affairs.
Virgin said it plans to conduct two further test flights of the space plane before starting commercial service next year.
The company said it has received more than 600 flight bookings, each with a price of approximately US$250,000, but hopes to eventually reduce the cost of each seat to US$40,000.
US agencies such as the US Air Force define space as 80 kilometers (50 miles), which is slightly different from the FAI’s definition of space as 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level. The Carmen Line is also defined at nearly 100 kilometers. NASA Mission Control defines the starting point of space as 122 kilometers (76 miles).
Virgin Galactic will orbit at 89 kilometers, while Blue Origin will cruise 100 kilometers above sea level.
It is generally believed that space begins when the atmosphere alone is insufficient to support a spacecraft flying at suborbital speeds.