Branson vs Bezos: Two billionaires race to ride their own rockets into space

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By: AP | Cape Canaveral (florida) |

Updated: July 9, 2021 3:23:08 pm

Two billionaires are placing all the pieces on the road this month to ride their own rockets into space. It’s supposed to be a flashy confidence increase for patrons looking for their own quick joyrides. The profitable, high-stakes chase for space vacationers will unfold on the fringes of space — 88 kilometers to 106 kilometers up, pitting Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson in opposition to the world’s richest man, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos.

Branson is due to take off Sunday from New Mexico, launching with two pilots and three different workers aboard a rocket aircraft carried aloft by a double-fuselage plane. Bezos departs 9 days later from West Texas, blasting off in a totally automated capsule with three friends: his brother, an 82-year-old feminine aviation pioneer who’s waited six many years for a shot at space and the winner of a $28 million charity public sale.

Jeff Bezos, founding father of Blue Origin, inspects New Shepard’s West Texas launch facility earlier than the rocket’s maiden voyage. (Blue Origin web site)

Branson’s flight might be longer, however Bezos’ might be greater. Branson’s craft has extra home windows, however Bezos’ home windows are larger. Branson’s piloted aircraft has already flown to space 3 times. Bezos’ has 5 instances as many check flights, although none with folks on board. Either manner, they’re capturing for sky-high bragging rights as the primary individual to fly his own rocket to space and expertise three to 4 minutes of weightlessness.

Branson, who turns 71 in one other week, considers it “very important” to attempt it out earlier than permitting space vacationers on board. He insists he’s not apprehensive; that is the thrill-seeking adventurer who’s kite-surfed throughout the English Channel and tried to circle the world in a sizzling air balloon.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space. When that did not look likely for my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could make it happen,” Branson wrote in a weblog this week. Seventeen years after founding Virgin Galactic, he’s on the cusp of experiencing space for himself.

“It’s amazing where an idea can lead you, no matter how far-fetched it may seem at first.” Bezos, 57, who stepped down Monday as Amazon’s CEO, introduced in early June that he’d be on his New Shepard rocket’s first passenger flight, selecting the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon touchdown. He too had childhood goals of touring to space, Bezos mentioned through Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

Branson was supposed to fly later this 12 months on the second of three extra check flights deliberate by Virgin Galactic earlier than flying ticket holders subsequent 12 months. But late final week, he leapfrogged forward. He insists he’s not attempting to beat Bezos and that it’s not a race. Yet his announcement got here simply hours after Bezos revealed he’d be joined in space by Wally Funk, one of many final surviving members of the so-called Mercury 13. The 13 feminine pilots by no means made it to space regardless of passing the identical checks within the early Nineteen Sixties as NASA’s authentic, all-male Mercury 7 astronauts.

Bezos hasn’t commented publicly on Branson’s upcoming flight. But some at Blue Origin already are nitpicking the truth that their capsule surpasses the designated Karman line of space 100 kilometers up, whereas Virgin Galactic’s peak altitude is 88 kilometers.

International aeronautic and astronautic federations in Europe acknowledge the Karman line because the official boundary between the higher environment and space, whereas NASA, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and a few astrophysicists settle for a minimal altitude of 80 kilometers.

Blue Origin’s flights final 10 minutes by the point the capsule parachutes onto the desert flooring. Virgin Galactic’s final round 14 to 17 minutes from the time the space aircraft drops from the mothership and fires its rocket motor for a steep climb till it glides to a runway touchdown.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk doesn’t do fast up-and-down hops to the sting of space. His capsules go all the way in which to orbit, and he’s capturing for Mars. “There is a big difference between reaching space and reaching orbit,” Musk mentioned final week on Twitter. Musk already has carried 10 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and his firm’s first personal spaceflight is developing in September for one more billionaire who’s bought a three-day, globe-circling ride. Regardless of how excessive they fly, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin already are referring to their potential shoppers as “astronauts.”

More than 600 have reserved seats with Virgin Galactic at $250,000. Blue Origin expects to announce costs and open ticket gross sales as soon as Bezos flies. Phil McAlister, NASA’s business spaceflight director, considers it a space renaissance, particularly because the space station will get set to welcome a string of paying guests, starting with a Russian actress and film producer in October, a pair of Japanese in December and a SpaceX-delivered crew of businessmen in January. “The way I see it is the more, the better, right?” McAlister mentioned. “More, better.”

This is exactly the long run NASA needed as soon as the shuttles retired and personal corporations took over space station ferry flights. Atlantis blasted off on the final shuttle flight 10 years in the past Thursday. NASA’s closing shuttle commander, Chris Ferguson, who now works for Boeing on its Starliner crew capsule, is impressed that Branson and Bezos are launching forward of shoppers. “That’s one surefire way to show confidence in your product is to get on it,” Ferguson mentioned at Thursday’s tenth anniversary shuttle celebrations. “I’m sure that this was not a decision made lightly. I wish them both well. I think it’s great.”

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