- Richard Branson has finally confirmed he’s trying to beat Jeff Bezos to the edge of space.
- Both billionaires are set to touch the edge of space and ultimately hope to fly paying customers.
After weeks of flying rumors, Richard Branson has finally confirmed that he’s hoping to reach the edge of space before Jeff Bezos.
The two billionaires each founded their own spaceflight companies — Bezos started Blue Origin in 2000, and Branson created Virgin Galactic in 2004 — with the dream of getting to space themselves. Their personal space race might end next weekend.
That’s because Virgin Galactic announced Thursday that it was planning to launch Branson aboard its next test flight as early as July 11. Bezos won’t be climbing aboard his company’s New Shepard rocket until July 20.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars,” Branson said on Twitter. “On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight.”
Branson will fly as a mission specialist — an employee playing the role of a future passenger. He’ll be joined by three other mission specialists: Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research.
Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will ferry the four mission specialists to the edge of space aboard the company’s VSS Unity vehicle — one of its SpaceShipTwo space planes. This will be Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight, though the company has flown humans to the edge of space three times.
Racing to the edge of space
There’s some debate about where space begins. Both Branson and Bezos will be flying to a gray area. Neither will enter the orbit around the Earth, which makes these flights “suborbital.”
Bezos’ spaceship should take him just above the Kármán line — an imaginary boundary 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, where some people say space begins. He’ll experience three minutes of weightlessness, then descend back to the ground.
Virgin Galactic has not shared the planned altitude for Branson’s flight, but the VSS Unity has never flown past the Kármán line. Its most recent crewed test flight, in May, soared 55 miles high.
Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin ultimately hope to ferry paying customers to these suborbital heights.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement. “As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”
In its press release, Virgin Galactic said it would share a global livestream of next weekend’s flight.