Virgin founder Richard Branson has announced that he will join the list of billionaires who will travel to space; But in a move that can be interpreted as a challenge, his journey will come before the one Jeff Bezos, outgoing Amazon CEO, has planned.
Bezos surprised locals and strangers when last month he presented his first challenge after leaving his position at Amazon: a trip to space, along with his brother Mark aboard the rocket of his aerospace company, Blue Origin. A trip that will be short, but that will carry considerable risk considering that it is expected to exceed the Karman line, some 100 kilometers above sea level.
Jeff Bezos will go on the first manned flight of Blue Origin, the rival of SpaceX
But this event, to be held on July 20, will be covered by another, just a few days before. Richard Branson, famous for the Virgin group, announced today that on July 11 he will also travel to space , and also aboard a ship of his own company. Indeed, millionaires have their own version of the space race that the Soviet Union and the United States staged last century.
I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight https://t.co/x0ksfnuEQ3 # Unity22 pic.twitter.com/GWskcMSXyA
Not that Branson was in a rush to make this project a reality before Bezos’s. Virgin Galactic has been developing an original space travel method for 17 years, which does not involve launching from a rocket like Blue Origin or SpaceX. Instead, the VSS Unity is a craft designed to be transported in a commercial aircraft and launched from a great height; or rather, he “drops” it so that the ship’s rockets focus on completing the last stretch to space.
The VSS Unity ship
The big difference between Virgin Galactic and other companies like SpaceX is that the priority has been space tourism from the beginning. The VSS Unity is designed to transport people, with a spacious cabin and many windows that will offer a unique view; there is no intention of launching satellites or missions for agencies like NASA with this vehicle.
Nor will the July 11 trip be the first with a crew; but it is the first one that will take as many people as possible. Virgin Galactic employees will accompany Branson on a trip that will serve as one more test before the commercial launch.
Virgin Galactic’s journey has suffered many setbacks, some fatal. In 2014, a prototype called the SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert, killing its pilot and seriously injuring his co-pilot. That nearly ended the project, but Elon Musk’s first space tourism offers seem to have motivated Branson to continue the multi-million dollar investment.
That Branson is ahead of Bezos also has another explanation: His journey will not be so spectacular or pioneering . The VSS Unity is only capable of reaching a height of 88 kilometers, something far from the Karman line that Bezos will overcome.
Therefore, it is debatable whether Branson will actually reach space, but it must be remembered that the edge of the atmosphere is not fixed, it varies constantly and the Karman line is only a reference. And anyway, Branson will go further than the vast majority of the world’s population.