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Richard Branson to beat Jeff Bezos in billionaire’s space race on July 11 flight


Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson is planning to beat Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos into space by nine days after announcing plans to be Astronaut 001 on the firm’s July 11 test flight. 

Bezos had already announced in June that he would be heading to space on July 20 alongside his brother on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft, but Branson now appears to have him beat by nine days.

Branson appeared in a Twitter video to announce his trip on Thursday, and introduced himself as ‘Astronaut 001.’

He said: ‘I’ll be evaluating the customer spaceflight experience. As the Virgin Galactic founder I am so proud to have this remarkable crew of mission specialists and pilots by my side as we fly to space.

‘I’ve always been a dreamer, my mum taught me never to give up and reach for the stars. 

‘This July, that dream will become a reality, and we’re really excited to share with you all, and when we return I will announce something very exciting to more people a chance to become astronauts, because space belongs to us all. So watch this space.’ 

Branson spoke after sharing another statement earlier on Thursday. It said: ‘After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.

Richard Branson will be heading to space on a July 11 Virgin Galactic spaceflight

Virgin Galactic´s Richard Branson is planning to beat Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos being the first to blast off into space on their July 11 flight. Branson is pictured in 2019

Virgin Galactic´s Richard Branson is planning to beat Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos being the first to blast off into space on their July 11 flight. Branson is pictured in 2019

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May

A photo shows the release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, New Mexico

A photo shows the release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, New Mexico

‘I’m honored to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.’

It will be Virgin Galactic’s fourth test spaceflight and the first mission with a crew of four on board.

Branson will be taking off alongside Chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission. 

Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, will also join the flight. He will be Astronaut 003.

Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations will also be on board as Astronaut 004. 

Bezos had already announced in June that he would be heading to space on July 20 alongside his brother on Blue Origin's New Shepherd spacecraft, but Branson now appears to have him beat by nine days

Bezos had already announced in June that he would be heading to space on July 20 alongside his brother on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft, but Branson now appears to have him beat by nine days

This month’s Unity 22 mission will be the 22nd flight test for rocket plane VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. Virgin Galactic’s rocket travels 50 miles into the sky, to the edge of space, before returning to Earth. 

The main objectives of the next test flight, taking off from Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in New Mexico, will be ‘evaluating… seat comfort, the weightless experience and the views of Earth’ in the space cabin.

The company said it also wants to demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments and confirm the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience.

Speaking ahead of his upcoming space flight, Sir Richard said: ‘I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. 

‘It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality.’ 

Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission will be on board

Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission will be on board

Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, will also join the flight

Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, will also join the flight

Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations

Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations

Dave Mackay will be piloting the Virgin Galactic spacecraft

Dave Mackay will be piloting the Virgin Galactic spacecraft

Addressing the benefits of Branson embarking on the next space flight, Michael Colglazier, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, said: ‘Our next flight – the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test – is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work.

‘Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers.’

Virgin Galactic plans three more test flights to the edge of space this summer and early fall, before launching with customers

Virgin Galactic plans three more test flights to the edge of space this summer and early fall, before launching with customers

Virgin Galactic plans three more test flights to the edge of space this summer and early fall, before launching with customers. 

The company had originally put Branson on the second upcoming flight, but has now moved him up to the next one in order to beat Bezos blasting off. 

Branson acknowledged it’s ‘very important’ for potential customers to see him strap in for a ride, before opening the doors to the paying public.

The thrill-seeking adventurer, who turns 71 in a few weeks, said he’s ‘not apprehensive at all’ about launching into space.

‘It’s a dream of a lifetime,’ he said. 

Last week, Virgin Galactic got the Federal Aviation Administration's OK to start launching customers

Last week, Virgin Galactic got the Federal Aviation Administration’s OK to start launching customers 

Last week, Virgin Galactic got the Federal Aviation Administration’s OK to start launching customers. 

More than 600 people already have reserved a ride to space. Tickets initially cost $250,000, but the price is expected to go up once the company starts accepting reservations again.

Virgin Galactic made its third flight to space in May, with two pilots in the cockpit of the winged spaceship. 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is targeting July 20 for his rocket company’s first launch with people. The Blue Origin flight from West Texas will include Bezos, his brother, a charity auction winner who’s shelling out $28 million and a fourth unidentified person.

Unlike Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are looking to send space tourists on brief up-and-down hops – not into orbit around the world.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos is targeting July 20 for his rocket company's first launch with people

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is targeting July 20 for his rocket company’s first launch with people

Participants enjoy the Blue Origin Space Simulator in June 2019. An unnamed bidder paid $28 million at auction on June 12, 2021, for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin on July 20

Participants enjoy the Blue Origin Space Simulator in June 2019. An unnamed bidder paid $28 million at auction on June 12, 2021, for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin on July 20

Bezos plans to blast into space from West Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing

Bezos plans to blast into space from West Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing

THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin's space capsule

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule

Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.

Amazon founder Bezos looks set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20. 

The billionaire mogul will travel with his younger brother Mark, a former advertising executive and volunteer firefighter, and the winner of Saturday’s multi-million pound auction.

However, a report has suggested Branson might beat him to it, by making a suborbital flight two weeks before Bezos and his brother. The suggestion is the Virgin Galactic founder would travel on his VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane on the July 4 weekend.

Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit. 

SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.  

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached. 

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

NASA has already selected two astronauts who will be on-board the first manned Dragon mission. 

SpaceX has also started sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network. 

Musk hopes this will provide an interconnected web of satellites around Earth which will beam down free internet to people worldwide.  

Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane. 

The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7). 

More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. 

Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX. 

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.

Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.

The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.   

Bezos is one of the richest men in the world and Blue Origin has successfully flown the New Shepard rocket 15 times.

At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.  



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