America’s billionaires seem to be vying for prominence as they race to launch their space crafts this summer.
Jeff Bezos announced his space launch a month ago, but it seems that philanthropist and Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson will beat him to it.
Branson has been developing his rocket technology for nearly two decades and insists that the moving up of his launch date is not to start a competition with the former Amazon CEO.
This contradicts a corporate source who claimed that Virgin Galactic devised the strategy in response to Blue Origin’s announcement of the July 20 trip on May 5.
“I completely understand why the press would write that,” Branson told The Washington Post last week. “It’s just an incredible, wonderful coincidence that we’re going up in the same month.”
Like Bezos’ rocket, Branson’s space vehicle is designed to take passengers up to the edge of space for a few moments of weightlessness and a view of the earth’s curvature before returning home.
The experience, though, is not quite the same, according to his rival. “They’re not flying above the Kármán line, and it’s a very different experience,” scoffed Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule flies to an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62 miles. The Kármán line is where space begins, according to some experts. Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane flies beyond 50 miles, above the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of space.
Branson will also be aboard the rocket when it launches on July 11, just like Bezos will be on his own rocket when it launches on July 20.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity has room for six passengers, the entire crew taking their first flight in the suborbital spacecraft with two pilots and four passengers (including Branson).
Branson has dreamed of space travel as a kid, just like Bezos. “I always envisioned as a kid that a spaceship should look like this,” he told NBC News. “I just thought that’s how you should fly to space.”
This trip is still a test run. Branson’s purpose on the mission is ostensibly “to evaluate the private astronaut experience.” There are still two more test flights scheduled, even though the company has already been approved to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“A new chapter in the story of human space flight is beginning,” a statement from the FAA reads. “The FAA approved the first commercial space license to launch private individuals into space.”
A ride with Branson on his space plane will cost you around $250,000, and 600-700 people have already signed up to join the billionaire in flight.
If Branson flies before Bezos, there will almost certainly be a discussion about whether he made it past the point that officially marks space. The FAA considers 50 miles (80.4 kilometers) to be the outer limit of space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which keeps track of aviation and space records, believes the space barrier to be 100 kilometers (62.1 miles), or the Karman line.
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