Just nine days before Jeff Bezos is said to take his space project, Blue Origin, outside the atmosphere, Sir Richard Branson beat him to it and went to space in his own project, Virgin Galactic.
A crowd of over 500 people, including Branson’s wife and children, watched nervously as billionaire Richard Branson went to space for the first time with Virgin Galactic.
It didn’t start like most rocket launches; you know, with the rocket sitting vertically on the ground? This time the craft took off from the ground horizontally by being attached to a twin-fuselage aircraft with the rocket attached underneath. The actual space plane, Unity 22, detached from the aircraft at an altitude of approximately 13km and blasted its engine for another 88km to finally reach the edge of space.
On board was, of course, Branson, and five crew members from the Virgin Galactic Space Tourism company.
At the apex of the climb, the crew were able to enjoy a few minutes of near zero gravity before they had to get ready for re-entry. It went off without a problem. From take-off to landing, it all took about one hour.
“The whole thing, it was just magical,” said Branson once he landed. He pumped his fists in the air and gave a big hug to his family. Branson added, “We’re here to make space more accessible to all. Welcome to the dawn of the new space age.” Prophetic words, perhaps?
This was a publicity stunt and marketing opportunity that Virgin Galactic could not miss out on. Many thought it would be Elon Musk’s or Jeff Bezos’ personal space tourism projects that would reach space first, but the dark horse that is Virgin Galactic managed to just beat them. Think of the headlines! “Branson beats Bezos!” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
The whole thing especially reads that way when you find out that Branson wasn’t supposed to fly into space until much later this year but upon hearing Bezos’ announcement to fly from Texas on July 20 (the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo moon landing), he decided that he must beat his fellow billionaire.
It makes sense, all the news surrounding space tourism has been focused on Musk and Bezos but now, you can be certain that everyone will have heard of Virgin Galactic.
Though neither Musk or Bezos seem upset about it. In fact, they each showed their support, Musk was even there at the launch! Bezos showed his support on Instagram, congratulating Virgin Galactic and saying that he “Can’t wait to join the club!”
Musk has already sent many astronauts to the International Space Station through his SpaceX program, so it makes sense that he isn’t too upset, but he does have to look out for his market share as now he has a third competitor in the space tourism arena.
Bezos did state that he believes the Blue Origin rides to be better than Virgin Galactic. He plans to send people up to 100km above earth while Virgin Galactic only sends people up to 80-90km. This hardly matters as it is a disputed number between various authorities as to what altitude constitutes the threshold of space. NASA and some astrophysicists say it’s at 80km, whilst international aviation and aerospace federations say it is 100km.
Virgin Galactic has over 600 reservations already from future space tourists and tickets cost $250,000 USD ($334,000 AUD).