When is Richard Branson going to space?
Sir Richard Branson has named the date he'll fly to the edge of space. It will be 11 July, or very soon after. He'll be a passenger in the back of the Unity rocket plane his Virgin Galactic company has been developing in the US for the better part of two decades. BBC NewsSir Richard Branson sets 11 July to make spaceflight
01 July, 2021 - 07:00pm
British billionaire Richard Branson plans to travel to space as early as July 11 aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, his company said in a statement.
If the schedule holds, Branson would make it to the cosmos before rival billionaire Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who said he would travel to space aboard a spacecraft belonging to his company Blue Origin on July 20.
"The flight window for the next rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity opens July 11, pending weather and technical checks," Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
01 July, 2021 - 06:39pm
It will be the company's first fully crewed spaceflight.
Branson, who founded the Virgin Group of companies that includes Virgin Galactic, is set to fly to space aboard VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic's suborbital rocket-powered space plane, on its next flight, "Unity 22."
The mission could take off as soon as July 11, depending on weather and other factors, the company announced today (July 1). With this launch window, the flight may happen just before Blue Origin's launch of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which is scheduled for July 20. That New Shepard flight will loft Bezos, who runs Blue Origin in addition to Amazon.
"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 @VirginGalatic spaceflight," Branson tweeted following today's announcement.
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/GWskcMSXyAJuly 1, 2021
The six-passenger, two-pilot VSS Unity, one of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo vehicles, flies brief missions to suborbital space. This will be the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity (hence the mission's name) as well as the company's fourth crewed spaceflight — and the first ever to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists, which include Branson, the company announced in the same statement.
"I'll be evaluating the Virgin Galactic founder. I am so proud to have this remarkable crew of mission specialists and pilots by my side as we fly into space," Branson said in the crew announcement video the company put out today. "This July, our dream will become a reality, and we’re really excited to share that moment with you all. And when we return, I will announce something really exciting, something very exciting, to give more people a chance to become astronauts, because space does belong to us all."
In addition to Branson, the crew will be made up of mission specialists Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor, who will serve as cabin lead and test director for the mission; Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer Colin Bennett, who will evaluate equipment, procedures and the experience during the mission; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research operations at the company, who will evaluate the research experience aboard the mission with an experiment from the University of Florida. The experiment Bandla will test on board will use a number of handheld fixation tubes.
VSS Unity will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will pilot VMS Eve, the carrier aircraft that hauls the space plane to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). At that point in the flight, VSS Unity drops and its rocket motor ignites, pushing the craft up to space.
"I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. 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," Branson said about the flight in the same announcement statement.
"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. As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, 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," he added.
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01 July, 2021 - 06:34pm
Virgin Galactic’s flight test plan, announced today, sets up a battle for the bragging rights associated with being the first person to ride his own company’s rocket ship into space.
Neither man would be the first billionaire in space. That distinction belongs to veteran Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi, who traveled to the International Space Station in 2007 and 2009.
Moreover, the definition of the space frontier could add an asterisk to the record book: Virgin Galactic sides with the Federal Aviation Administration in defining the space boundary as the 50-mile-high mark. Blue Origin plans to send its New Shepard spaceship beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) altitude that currently serves as the internationally accepted boundary of space.
Either way, the space race is likely to make for a dramatic few weeks, considering the risks that come with testing new space vehicles — not to mention the egos of the billionaire space barons.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity rocket plane has gone through 20 tests, including three crewed flight tests that soared higher than 50 miles. The company had planned to conduct one more flight test before putting Branson on board, but that schedule was changed after Bezos announced that he’d go into space on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
For the first time, Virgin Galactic will provide streaming video coverage of the entire flight on its website as well as its Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channels. Coverage is expected to begin at 9 a.m. ET / 7 a.m. MT / 6 a.m. PT on the day of the flight.
There’s no guarantee that either billionaire will fly on the currently designated day. Technical issues or weather concerns could force postponements, adding yet another source of drama.
The goal of Virgin Galactic’s next flight test is to evaluate the seats and other aspects of the cabin environment with a full crew. Branson and his crewmates will assess how it’ll feel when customers get on board for a roughly 2.5-hour flight that includes a few minutes of weightlessness and a 50-mile-high view of the curving Earth.
They’ll also sample the training program at Virgin Galactic’s terminal at New Mexico’s Spaceport America, and demonstrate procedures for conducting human-tended research experiments.
Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will be at the controls in VSS Unity, while CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will be flying the rocket plane’s twin-fuselage mothership, VMS Eve.
Branson’s companions in the passenger cabin will be Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor, who took a trip to space in February 2019; lead operations engineer Colin Bennett; and Sirisha Bandia, vice president of government affairs and research operations. Bandia will be in charge of an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes to be activated at various points during the flight.
“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 to never give up and to reach for the stars. This July, our dream will become a reality,” Branson said in a video previewing the flight.
“When we return, I will announce something very exciting to give more people a chance to become astronauts,” he promised.
Results of the test flight will be evaluated and fed into what are expected to be the final two flights of the VSS Unity test program — another flight aimed at evaluating the customer experience, which was previously due to carry Branson; and a research flight for the Italian Air Force.
Virgin Galactic is aiming to begin commercial space tours in 2022, with about 600 customers on the waiting list. Those customers have paid as much as $250,000 for their reservation, and the price is sure to go up when ticket sales resume.
Word of Branson’s flight plans provided a boost for Virgin Galactic’s share price, which shot up more than 25% today in after-hours trading.
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01 July, 2021 - 06:14pm
The British-American spaceflight company said in a press release that the “Unity 22” mission will mark the 22nd test flight for the VSS Unity spacecraft and the fourth crewed mission for the company.
The mission will also work to demonstrate the “conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments,” with the training program at New Mexico-based Spaceport America supporting “the spaceflight experience.”
Virgin Galactic said that it will share a global livestream of the spaceflight, accessible on the company’s website and its Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages.
The company also unveiled the mission in a tweet, along with a video introducing the flight team.
Branson in the video explained, “I’ve always been a dreamer,” adding that his mother told him “to never give up and to reach for the stars.”
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement that the upcoming mission “is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team.”
The announcement comes amid a race among companies aiming to improve space flight technology, with the goal to eventually open ships up for commercial use.
Virgin Galactic said Thursday that it plans to conduct two additional test flights after its July 11 mission before it hopes to officially launch commercial service in 2022.
Bezos and his brother are set to launch into space with his Blue Origin space flight company July 20.
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01 July, 2021 - 05:19pm
Virgin Galactic announced on Thursday that the space tourism company will attempt to launch its next test spaceflight on July 11, carrying founder Sir Richard Branson.
Branson is aiming to beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space, as the latter plans to launch with his own company, Blue Origin, on July 20.
"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," Branson said in a statement. "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."
This will be Virgin Galactic's fourth test spaceflight to date and its first mission with a crew of four on board, as the company launched its most recent spaceflight, on May 22, with just two pilots.
Shares of Virgin Galactic popped more than 20% during after-hours trading, up from Thursday's close of $43.19.
Alongside Branson will be three Virgin Galactic mission specialists: Chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett, and government affairs VP Sirisha Bandla. Virgin Galactic pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will fly the company's VSS Unity spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic said it will livestream the spaceflight for the first time, a feed that will be available on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
On June 25 the company announced that the Federal Aviation Administration granted it a license to fly passengers on future spaceflights, and Virgin is targeting early 2022 to begin flying paying passengers.
Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to build a space tourism business.
The company's spacecraft launch from a carrier aircraft before accelerating to more than three times the speed of sound. The spacecraft then spends a few minutes in microgravity above 80 kilometers altitude — the boundary the U.S. officially recognizes as space — before slowly flipping around and gliding back to Earth to land on a runway.
Virgin Galactic competes only with Bezos' Blue Origin in the realm of suborbital space tourism, as Elon Musk's SpaceX carries passengers on longer trips into orbit, such as to the International Space Station.
In June, Bezos announced that he would fly on Blue Origin's first passenger flight of its New Shepard rocket. Bezos is scheduled to launch on July 20, and will fly alongside his brother as well as the winner of a $28 million public auction and legendary aerospace pioneer Wally Funk.
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Billionaires’ race to space: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson now set to beat Blue Origin’s Bezos to space
01 July, 2021 - 05:15pm
Richard Branson is set to get his long-awaited trip to space as early as July 11, flying on a suborbital mission that would allow him to beat Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, who is scheduled to fly on his company’s spacecraft nine days later.
In a statement announcing the mission, the company said Branson would be joined in the cabin by three Virgin Galactic employees who would evaluate the “cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel.”
Among those employees is Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission. Virgin Galactic’s plane, known as SpaceShipTwo Unity, has reached space on three occasions, and this would be the first time it will have flown a crew of four.
In an interview, Branson said he was “incredibly excited” and that moving up his flight was “honestly not” intended to best Bezos.
“I completely understand why the press would write that,” he said. “It’s just an incredible, wonderful coincidence that we’re going up in the same month.”
Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, recently said he would fly on July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. And on Thursday his space company, Blue Origin, announced he would be joined by Wally Funk, a member of the “Mercury 13,” a group of women privately tested and trained by a team of aviation medical experts for NASA’s astronaut program at the height of the space race.
Both Branson’s and Bezos’s flights will travel on suborbital trajectories that will just scratch the edge of space and give passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.
Virgin Galactic recently received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration that allows it to fly commercial passengers, paving the way for Branson to join the crew. In May, the company flew another test flight that went so well that the company felt it was safe to allow Branson to fly as part of the crew.
“I’ve been itching to go, and they said they wanted somebody to properly test the astronaut experience,” he said in the interview. “And I was damned if I was going to let anyone take that seat.”
Virgin Galactic, which Branson founded in 2004, has some 600 people signed up for flights — one of them Funk — and is expected to reopen sales around the time of Branson’s flight. The company had charged $250,000, but that price will increase. The company has not said what it would charge, but analysts have said it could be as much as $500,000.
Blue Origin has not announced ticket prices either. But it recently auctioned off a seat for $28 million for its first spaceflight mission. The company has yet not announced who the winner is.
Virgin Galactic flies out of Spaceport America in New Mexico. Unlike a traditional rocket, Virgin’s spacecraft is carried aloft to some 45,000 feet by a mother plane. The spacecraft is then dropped, and the pilots ignite its engines and fly the craft almost straight up.
In addition to Branson and Moses, Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations, and Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, would join the flight.
Virgin Galactic’s CEO, Michael Colglazier, said in an interview that the crew “are going to open the door for the rest of us to find a way to access space in the future.”
He said the company did a thorough safety review and determined that the previous test flight met all its objectives, meaning the company could move Branson up to its next test flight instead of the one to follow.
“It really gave us a choice as to whether Richard would prefer to fly on the first or the second,” Colglazier said. “And guess which one he chose?”
Branson said that after waiting to go to space for 17 years, he was most looking forward to seeing the earth from a distance, and allowing his customers, some of whom have been waiting for years to go as well.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a statement. “After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good. 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.”
Billionaire Richard Branson aims to fly to the edge of space as early as July 11, narrowly beating Jeff Bezos
01 July, 2021 - 12:00am
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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.
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.