The commercial space race is well underway, with Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos both attempting to leave Earth this month, risking their lives in the process. Jenny Southan reports
On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson (Astronaut 001) will be boarding his VSS Unity spacecraft in an attempt to safely leave Earth on its first official, fully crewed sub-orbital flight. His ascent will begin with a launch powered by a twin-fuselage plane that will take the spacecraft up 8.5 miles, where it will then be released.
Virgin Galactic says that at this point, “the rocket motor will be fired and the spaceship’s nose pitched to a near vertical climb. A surge of energy will produce acceleration forces of around 3.5G and propel the spaceship to speeds approaching three and a half times the speed of sound towards the black sky of space”. Ultimately it will reach a point about 50 miles above Earth.
After a few minutes of weightlessness and time to take photos, the vehicle will descend in a similar way to a shuttlecock before (hopefully) gently land at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The total flight time will be about 90 minutes. So far there have been 21 Virgin Galactic test flights.
What is particularly exciting is that the public will be able to livestream footage of the “UNITY22” space mission here at 6am PT (9am ET, 2pm BST) on July 11.Not far behind him will be Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin and Amazon, which has made him the richest person in the world. He is planning to board Blue Origin’s six-person New Shepard capsule, which is attached to a resuable rocket, on July 20 in Texas. It will be the company’s first flight with people on board. So far there have been 15 Blue Origin test flights.
Blue Origin’s mission is to make it beyond the Karman Line, which is about 62 miles above sea level. At that point the rocket will detach and return to the ground, while the capsule will descend attached to a parachute, making it very different to Virgin Galactic.According to Reuters, Virgin Galactic has more than 600 ticket reservations already, priced around US$250,000 each. It expects to begin a full commercial service in 2022 and eventually hopes to reduce the ticket price to around US$40,000.
Blue Origin has yet to announce pricing, although a mystery person big US$28 million to get a seat on the July 20 flight. In addition to Jeff Bezos’s brother Mark, 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk will also be on board as an “honoured guest”.In a post on LinkedIn, Richard Branson wrote: “I’ve wanted to go to space ever since I was a young boy and watched the moon landings from our black and white television set. When commercial spaceflights did not look likely for my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the hope of creating a company that could make it happen.
“17 years later and I’m thrilled that Virgin Galactic is at the vanguard of this new space age that I’ve been dreaming about for so long. At Virgin Galactic, we believe that the answers to many of the challenges we face in sustaining life on our beautiful but fragile planet, lie in making better use of space.
“From space, we are able to look with a new perspective both outward and back. From space it is clear that there is much more that unites than divides us.”
Globetrender wishes both these men and their teams the best of luck.