His dream is finally coming true: billionaire Richard Branson will take a test flight to space with five others this afternoon. Branson says he has been looking forward to his space journey for 17 years, with which he is also ahead of two special competitors.
The launch of its rocket plane, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, took place over the desert. It is Branson’s space tourism company’s fourth manned test mission outside Earth’s atmosphere.
But it is the first flight that is fully booked and in which Branson also goes into space himself. In addition to Branson, two pilots and three mission specialists are flying along. Initially, the launch was supposed to be at three o’clock, but bad weather conditions threw a spanner in the works. It was half-past four.
The Unity was launched in a special way: at an altitude of more than 15 kilometres, from a carrier aircraft. The rocket then flies into space under its own power. The crew will then be weightless for about four minutes. After that period, the vehicle descends back to Earth.
The launch is also special because it concludes a mutual billionaire battle: Branson goes into space nine days earlier than rival Jeff Bezos, former Amazon CEO and founder of space company Blue Origin. Together with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, these companies are embracing space tourism.
Virgin plans to offer commercial flights to space on a regular basis from 2022. Those flights are for the time being only reserved for the rich. Space travel tickets should cost about $250,000.
According to Branson, the space tourism market is big enough to have competitors like Bezos. “Neither of us will be able to build enough spaceships to meet the demand.”
Three players in space tourism
Founded in 2004 by Richard Branson, part of the Virgin Group. The aim is to offer short manned space flights. Flights that do not go further than the edge of space. Passengers experience weightlessness for only a few minutes. Listed since October 2019.
Entrepreneurs Jim Cantrell and Elon Musk came up with SpaceX in 2002. Mainly started with the millions that Musk earned from the sale of his PayPal shares. The company develops its own rockets that are reusable. It is also working on satellite internet and manned Mars and Moon landers.
SpaceX first brought humans to the ISS space station last year. SpaceX also wants to earn money with commercial space flights. It will soon send a tourist-only flight into space, possibly by the end of this year.
The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, was just ahead of Musk and Branson. He started his aerospace company in 2000. In addition to space tourism, Blue Origin is involved in scientific space travel. Bezos finances Blue Origin with his private equity. He sold billions in Amazon stock, then invested the proceeds in his aerospace company.
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