British businessman and billionaire Richard Branson has tried many things in his life, from crossing the Atlantic on a motorboat to Record time trying to travel the world in a hot air balloon (before crash landing). But his upcoming feat might be his most notable yet: travel to space – and possibly beat another billionaire. and space startup founder Jeff Bezos in the process.
This Sunday morning, Branson will join five other people on Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed space flight. If everything goes according to plan, they will travel more than 50 miles above Earth’s surface on the VSS Unity spacecraft, an aircraft-like vehicle that will be carried by a mothership before reaching what NASA considered to be the border between outer space and Earth. The aim is to demonstrate that space tourism is really possible, and during the estimated trip 90 minutes, riders will experience weightlessness and see a breathtaking view of the Earth.
Space tourism has long been Branson’s aspiration. The British businessman, whose land-based businesses across the Virgin Group include everything from a record label to air travel, founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, just as the private space industry was starting to become competitive. . In 2000, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos based Blue Origin, and two years later Elon Musk founded SpaceX. For more than a decade, these private companies clashed, launching test flights and preparing to send humans – including civilians – into space. At the same time, NASA has increasingly turned to these private space companies for its own work, including helping the payload delivery, astronaut training, and even back to the moon.
“If you want people to pay to do this, most people won’t pay to do it if there’s a good chance they’ll die,” Janet Bednarek, aviation historian at the University of Dayton , said Recode. “I think that’s part of why Branson is taking this flight. This signals that it is now safe.
If Branson is successfully launched on Sunday, it will be another milestone for Virgin Galactic, and one that will bring humanity even closer to the era of commercial space tourism.
While SpaceX and Blue Origin have a slew of other goals, including payload delivery On the International Space Station, Virgin Galactic has distinguished itself with its long-standing focus on space tourism: the idea that people will be willing to spend a lot of money to be able to travel to space. “We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring to life their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory and the incredible feeling of weightlessness,” said Branson said. proclaimed back in 2004.
At the time, Branson predicted the company could send five people into space for just $ 200,000, and thousands of astronauts could be sent into space in the years to come. In 2019, Virgin Galactic became the leading space tourism company to go public, and in June, the company received the very first operating license from the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning it now has permission to steal paying customers. Branson also launched Virgin Orbit, a side company that is launching satellites, where SpaceX is also in competition.
Sunday’s launch means Branson and Virgin Galactic have edged Bezos and Musk in the race for private space. While Branson has insisted he’s not trying to beat Bezos and Blue Origin to get to space first, he announced his July 11 flight just hours after Amazon CEO said he would take off July 20. Bezos seems at least slightly stung by Branson changing his launch date: Friday, Blue Origin interrogates if Sunday’s Virgin Galactic flight really in space, since the flight does not technically cross the internationally recognized border, the Kármán Line, approximately 12 miles higher as the border recognized by NASA.
Virgin Galactic’s journey to commercial space tourism has seen its fair share of serious setbacks. In 2014, a test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo crushed, killing one co-pilot and leaving the other seriously injured. (The National Transportation Safety Board later attributed the accident to co-pilot error and “failure to account for and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in catastrophic risk.”) Virgin Atlantic airline and the Virgin Active gymnasium, also had to overcome the financial challenges of the pandemic.
The space flight effort also faces the issue of cost effectiveness. “There are a limited number of people who can actually afford to do this,” Bednarek told Recode. “If you’re going to scale up, you have to find a way to cut costs as well, and that’s very difficult to do.”
Earlier this month, Branson mentionned he thinks there is enough demand for space travel for at least 20 different companies to compete in the industry. So far the company says at least 600 people have made reservations for future Virgin Galactic flights, at a ticket price estimated at $ 250,000. Last year, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said he believed the company could potentially generate $ 1 billion in revenue a year and make spaceflight a regular occurrence, though he noted that the business would need more. space planes and motherships to reach this goal.
And while we’re still a long way from mainstream space tourism, Branson will soon have company: in a few days, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is planned to travel to space For about 11 minutes in a BlueOrigin rocket, alongside other pilots, including his brother Mark Bezos and a still anonymous auction winner who bid $ 28 million for a seat on the flight.
From the start, New Shepard was designed to fly over the Kármán Line, so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km from the internationally recognized Kármán Line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ
– Blue origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
SpaceX, meanwhile, is expected to launch its first “all-civilian”Flight later this year. On board will be pilot tech entrepreneur and billionaire Jared Isaacman, who founded payment processing company Shift4Payments.
Only a few hundred humans have made it into space, but that number seems to be accelerating quite quickly.