Sir Richard Branson Wins Battle Of Billionaire Space Race

Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic venture on Sunday beat the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, in the historic race into outer space.

Sir Richard made good his promise to reach outer space first on Sunday with a flawless debut flight in New Mexico, carrying Sir Richard and three fellow crewmembers, plus two pilots.

This means that Sir Richard has become the first person to ride into space aboard a rocket he helped fund, in a race that is highly expected to kick-start the space tourism industry.

Virgin Galactic

For the past year Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin venture have dominated the media deadlines in the lead up to the launch.

Jeff Bezos and his brother, plus an unnamed auction winner (who paid $28m), and an 82 year-old woman will take part in Blue Origin’s inaugural crewed flight of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on 20th July.

But Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have been developing its spacecraft for space tourists for over a decade now and its first commercial flight had been expected some time this year.

Last month Virgin Galactic quietly gained the official blessing from the US aviation safety regulator (the FAA) to fly people to outer space.

Sunday morning, Sir Richard tweeted a picture of himself and a barefoot Elon Musk hanging out.

“Big day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready,” he wrote, before heading out to the launch site.

Later on Sunday, nine days before the Jeff Bezos launch, Virgin Galactic successfully carried six people – namely Sir Richard, plus Virgin Galactic employees Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla and as well as pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci on board the SpaceShipTwo into outer space.

Historic launch

They launched when the massive, twin-fuselaged mothership, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, carried SpaceShipTwo and its passengers 50,000 feet in the air.

SpaceShipTwo is a winged plane with a single rocket motor and it then detached from WhiteKnightTwo before it fired its main rocket, pushing Sir Richard and his passengers back into their seats as they experienced 3Gs of force from the extreme acceleration.

SpaceShipTwo then rocketed up to its maximum height of 53 miles above the Earth, which is high enough to reach NASA’s classification of ‘astronaut’.

Indeed, outer space is classified by the United States, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the US military and NASA as starting 50 miles above the earth’s surface.

But an international definition of space is known as the Kármán Line, an imaginary boundary 100 kilometers (62 miles) above mean sea level.

The International Space Station orbits the earth between 205 to 270 miles up.

Sir Richard and his fellow passengers watched the blue sky fade into the star-speckled darkness of outer space. At the top of the flight path the vehicle was suspended in weightlessness for four minutes, allowing the passengers to enjoy panoramic views of the Earth and space as SpaceShipTwo then it rotated.

It then deployed its feathering system, which curls the plane’s wings upward, which allows the spaceship glide back down to a runway landing in New Mexico.

Sir Richard posted this message to the children of the world at the height of his spaceflight.

It also contains a video of the crew at the apex of the spaceflight.

All in all the entire flight took over 2 hours to complete.

Sour Grapes?

But the Jeff Bezos venture Blue Origin didn’t exactly react with good grace when Sir Richard and Virgin Galactic pipped them to the post.

“From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” tweeted Blue Origin. “For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.”

“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space,” it added. “New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.

And, just to twist the knife a bit further, Blue Origin said that Virgin Galactic only has ‘airplane-sized windows’.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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