Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. On Sunday morning, the 70-year-old billionaire flew to the stars on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft full of people-at least better than rival space tycoon Jeff Bezos, hoping to take the Blue Origin spacecraft to try to reach the edge of space 9 days early.

Branson’s successful flight was not just a victory in the space race among billionaires; it opened a new era of starting guns that could open space travel outside of government plans to non-professional astronauts — and in this way In the process of doing it, it provided another impetus for the fast-developing space economy.

Following Sunday’s success, Virgin Galactic is expected to launch commercial flights to suborbital space next year. To date, the company has sold approximately 600 tickets, each priced at approximately US$250,000. Some paying passengers include celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga and space promotion billionaire Elon Musk.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid,” Branson said after returning to the ground on Sunday. “But honestly, nothing can prepare you for seeing the earth from space.”

Branson, who has always been a salesman, claimed that the Virgin Galactic he founded had achieved a major victory. But the richest man in the world-Jeff Bezos- It also competes with his company Blue Origin for part of the commercial space market.

Bezos’ ambitions don’t stop there. Blue Origin also wants to build infrastructure in space to help NASA return to the moon, just like Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX.

Blue Origin is part of a team that lost to SpaceX, which signed a multi-billion dollar contract to build NASA’s next manned landing system to transport astronauts to the surface of the moon. Bezos’ company filed an official protest, demanding a competition for the award. A ruling on this is expected sometime in August.

At the same time, Blue Origin is building a large new rocket called New Glenn, which will compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. It is estimated that that rocket will start flying sometime next year.

Space race

Historically, space has always been an area entirely owned by the military or government and their respective space agencies, such as NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos. But in recent years, the paradigm has changed, and more and more private companies have gained fame by putting hardware into space.

NASA did not build all the hardware on its own, but turned to the private sector to help reduce costs and stimulate innovation. NASA is now reaping the fruits of this labor through its commercial crew and cargo programs.

SpaceX has successfully launched three different astronaut missions into space, reducing the cost of space travel by millions. Currently, a seat in the Crew Dragon space capsule costs NASA estimated at 55 million U.S. dollars, and NASA pays Roscosmos for each seat on the Soyuz at 90 million U.S. dollars.

Although Musk, Bezos, and Branson are currently making headlines, another billionaire, Peter Diamandis, made an important first in opening up space to commercial players in the late 1990s. Step, he hopes to stimulate the thriving private space industry by launching a competition: the X Prize.

The initial competition required a global team to build a spacecraft that can carry people into space multiple times. The first team to successfully launch (and launch twice in a short period of time) will win a prize of $10 million.

It will take nearly ten years to win the award. A team led by Burt Rutan has created a small rocket-powered vehicle called SpaceShipOne, which is designed to be launched from an airplane, such as NASA’s old X-15.

As Diamandis hoped, the success of this spacecraft inspired many people and attracted the attention of a special space enthusiast, Sir Richard Branson. He acquired Rutan’s company Scaled Composites and founded his own space company Virgin Galactic in 2004. Then he set about building the next-generation spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.

The upgraded spacecraft will carry a total of six passengers into space and start the booming space tourism industry. Or at least this is what he wants to happen. It turns out that building something that can fly in space is a considerable challenge. Virgin Galactic suffered losses during a catastrophic failure of Spacecraft II in 2014, resulting in the death of a pilot.

But Branson and his team of engineers persevered. When the company finally reached space in 2018, this determination paid off. Additional test flights, including one with the company’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, laid the foundation for Branson’s historic flight on Sunday.

“Today is the result of many years of work and the tremendous sacrifices of many people,” George Whitesides, chairman of the Virgin Galactic Space Advisory Board, told Al Jazeera. “Adding space flight will make the future of mankind better, and this flight will help achieve this goal.”

Six crew members of Unity 22 [Courtesy of Virgin Galactic]

Destination space

Due to bad weather in the desert of New Mexico, Branson and three other crew members boarded Spacecraft II on Sunday morning after a 90-minute delay. The four astronauts and their two pilots successfully completed the seat-edge suborbital test flight, aiming to prove that Branson’s space plane is ready for passengers who can afford the ultimate thrilling journey.

The billionaire’s crew also includes pilots David McKay and Michael Masucci, as well as Virgin Atlantic’s astronaut trainer Beth Moses, flight engineer Colin Bennett, and the company’s government Silissa Bandera, Vice President of Relations.

Branson’s journey began in a dramatic way, as Virgin Galactic’s large carrier aircraft, the VSS Unity rocket-powered space shuttle, was fixed under the wing at 8:40 am local time from the United States near the truth or aftermath of New Mexico. The launch of the spaceport launch site (14:40 GMT) was delayed by 90 minutes due to inclement weather.

The company did its best for the live broadcast hosted by Stephen Colbert and included a live performance by R&B musician Khalid after the crew returned to Earth. It’s flashy, it’s hyped, and this is everything you would expect from a new business travel company.

The success of the actual mission provided support for the dramatic effect, and the spacecraft called Unity scaled it to an altitude slightly higher than 80 kilometers (50 miles)—NASA’s definition of space—makes Branson and him The five crew members lost weight for about three minutes, plus the magnificent views of the Earth before they returned to the atmosphere and descended in a spiral to land on Virgin Atlantic’s New Mexico launch site.

This successful flight basically surpassed Bezos, and he plans to conduct his own suborbital space flight next week.

Bezos announced that he will fly with his brother and an unnamed mysterious bidder. He won a seat on a flight in a private auction last month, which benefits the club of the future, Blue Origin. Of charities support science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Winning the bid brought 28 million U.S. dollars.

The three will join the 82-year-old Wally Funk, an accomplished pilot who has waited 6 years to enter space. She was originally a female member of NASA’s space program, known as Mercury 13-a group of female astronaut candidates who underwent the same tests as NASA’s original astronaut group Mercury 7 in 1961 .

Fink prepares to become the oldest man ever to fly in space next week – the record that John Glenn previously held when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77 – and never gave up being an astronaut. dream.

“I never let anything stop me,” Fink told Al Jazeera. “I know that my mind and body can withstand anything that any space equipment wants to give me: high-altitude cabin test, which is good; centrifuge test, I know I can do 5 to 6 G. These things are easy for me .”

Funk held the record for the longest stay in the isolation tank in 1961-over 10 hours, breaking the record held by John Glenn. This experience will come in handy because Blue Origin flight participants must pass certain medical qualifications as part of the flight requirements.

Fink and Elon Musk, another big name in the aerospace industry, bought tickets for Virgin Galactic. It is not clear when it will fly or if Funk will still keep her reservation because she purchased it before being selected by Blue Origin.

In response to Musk’s weekend purchases, Branson said that one day he may return and purchase a SpaceX flight ticket. On Sunday, Musk cheered for Branson on the sidelines.

The Unity 22 spacecraft flies over the earth, crossing the boundary of space [Courtesy of Virgin Galactic]

Competing for customers

As a sign of rising competition in the commercial space flight market, Blue Origin highlighted the difference between it and Virgin Galactic on Twitter on July 9th-pointing out the difference in altitude and the number of test flights. Blue Origin also boasts that it has the “largest window” in space. (Until you see the cupola of the International Space Station.)

Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones helped clarify which design is actually better. According to the previous four spacecraft, the two designs have their own advantages. “Perhaps a simpler capsule design is less expensive to develop and fly than the space shuttle, but the space shuttle may be able to fly more frequently because it does not require parachutes and instead relies on runways,” he told Al Jazeera.

Despite his company boasting on Twitter, Bezos praised Branson and his team on Instagram after landing and posted a note that read “Congratulations on this flight. Can’t wait to join The club!”

After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally approved Blue Origin to send humans into space on its New Shephard launch system, he took another step on Monday.

If everything goes according to plan, Bezos will become the second private space tycoon to join the “Space Billionaires” club on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.


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