Space tourism will benefit from an entrepreneur’s journey, but widespread travel to the edge of space will take years.
Tourism in space is on the rise.
Richard Branson will fly to the edge of space on Sunday, bringing the industry closer to reality — though few travelers will be able to afford it until years from now.
Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc will take Mr. Branson, five others, and their luggage. They will travel 50 miles above Earth on a spacecraft. In addition to the billionaire entrepreneur, three executives from the company and two pilots from Virgin Galactic will make the trip, which will be the company’s first flight with a full crew.
The company has said the high-profile flight is the latest test of its technology and the first since the Federal Aviation Administration granted it permission last month to fly paying passengers into space. Virgin Galactic has said it expects to start operating such trips next year. For now, Sunday’s flight serves as another potential validation point for a space-tourism industry that will need to attract wealthy passengers as it ramps up.
Human space flight, long the province of government agencies with scientific goals and policy objectives, is drawing fresh interest from investors and Space-tourism is a growing industry for companies that see opportunities to market themselves to a commercial audience. Branson, Jeff Bezos, Tesla, and Amazon.com Inc. founders are billionaires. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other executives believe the demand exists to build a brand new experience and business.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson will venture where no space baron has gone before on Sunday, when he steps aboard the supersonic space plane from his rocket venture.
It has taken over two decades for Branson to embark on his brief joy ride. Virgin Galactic is a company founded by Richard Branson with the goal of building a wing-equipped aircraft for taking eight passengers and two pilots into space in rocket-powered flights that reach more than 50 miles above Earth, which the US government considers outer space.
Five Virgin Galactic employees have been designated astronauts after flying on VSS Unity, the company’s spaceplane, more than 20 times, including three test flights that have reached the limits of space. Branson, however, will become the first billionaire founder of a space company to travel into outer space on a vehicle that he helped fund.
Depending on weather conditions, Branson’s flight will depart early on Sunday morning, July 11. Virgin Galactic will broadcast a livestream on that morning, hosted by comedian Stephen Colbert, a spokesperson confirmed to CNN. Musician Khalid is nominated for a Grammy also be debuting a new song at the landing site after Branson’s anticipated return, Rolling Stone reported.
You can find all of the information you need here before the event.
The three colleagues that Branson is bringing with him for the ride are. They include:
- Beth Moses, who holds the title of Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic and will handle the training for all of the company’s future customers. She’s flown to space on VSS Unity once before, during a 2019 test flight. Moses, an aerospace engineer, won’t just be along for the ride. She’ll be ensuring her fellow passengers stay safe and ensure that Virgin Galactic collects all the data it needs because this flight will be, at the end of the day, still a test flight.
- Colin Bennett, who is the company’s lead operations engineer. Bennett will help evaluate the overall experience and ensure the cabin equipment is in good shape.
- Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research. Bandla will be on board for the science. Virgin Galactic frequently flies experiments to makes use of the microgravity environment, and on this flight Bandla will be handling a University of Florida research project that involves handling “handheld fixation tubes,” according to the company.
Welcome Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennett, and Beth Moses — our expert crew members joining @richardbranson on our #Unity22 test flight. Watch LIVE this Sunday at https://t.co/5UalYT7Hjb. @SirishaBandla @VGChiefTrainer pic.twitter.com/F4ZrGnH3vo
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 5, 2021
Virgin Galactic says Branson will use his training and spaceflight experience to encourage an enhanced astronaut journey for the company’s customers.
What will happen?
The image of a person floating in space, circling the Earth, is how most people visualise spaceflight.
Virgin Galactic’s only operational SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, though it is building others, is not what Branson is planning to do with VSS Unity.
It’s a wild ride, in general, on the flight path of the VSS Unity. The space plane, which takes off from Virgin Galactic’s airport in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on Sunday morning, does not take off vertically from a launch pad like most rockets. (The former town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, changed its name to Truth or Consequences in the 1950s as part of a publicity stunt for a radio show, and it has remained that way ever since).
VSS Unity is attached to a massive mothership that resembles two sleek jets tethered at their tipped wings, named WhiteKnightTwo. During the cruise, the mothership slowly climbs up to 50,000 feet with VSS Unity, taking about 45 minutes. In the pilots’ final command, SpaceShipTwo dropped between the fuselages of WhiteKnightTwo and fired up its rocket engine, rising over the stars at speeds faster than sound.
Virgin Spaceship Unity and Virgin Mothership Eve take to the skies on its first captive carry flight in September 2016.
In addition to being a suborbital plane, VSS Unity won’t be fast enough to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. As an alternative, it will travel at 3,200 miles per hour – about 2,300 miles per hour – and reach more than 50 miles above the ground. Branson, his fellow passengers, and others on board will briefly be weightless at the top of the flight path. In a sense, it’s like feeling like you’re suspended in mid-air before gravity pulls your cart down – or, in Branson’s case, your spaceship back down toward the earth.
SpaceShipTwo’s engines shut off after about a minute, leaving the spacecraft and its passengers in microgravity as it rolls onto its belly, offering a panoramic view of the Earth below and the dark void above.
At the end of the trip, SpaceShipTwo raises its wings, mimicking that of a badminton shuttlecock, to reorient the vehicle as it descends back to Earth. After landing on the runway, the aircraft lowers its wings.
The launch will be watched by a select group of reporters. Live updates will be available here and on CNN Business’s television stations.
How is this different from what SpaceX and Blue Origin do?
Blue Origin, Bezos’ suborbital rocket company, adopted a different method. Using a capsule and rocket system, the company’s New Shepard sends passengers on a scream-filled 11-minute ride to more than 60 miles high, then descends gently with parachutes.
As soon as their companies begin commercial operations, Blue Origin will compete with Virgin Galactic. The two are competing for the attention of ultra-wealthy thrill seekers willing to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the sensation of weightlessness and a supersonic gut punch.
Despite what Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic will be demonstrating this month, Elon Musk runs a very different business than both of them.
The first thing SpaceX does is build rockets for space exploration. In order to reach orbital velocity, rockets need to produce enough power to keep a spacecraft warping around the Earth instead of being slowed by gravity, which would result in a rapid return to Earth. SpaceX uses that technology to launch satellites or fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
How risky is this?
It has always been risky to travel to space. Virgin Galactic has tested its space planes through testing for the last two decades, so Branson’s mission to suborbital space is not without risks.
Branson, however, has apparently decided that his risk-taking is worth it since he straps himself to a rocket.
As a matter of fact, Virgin Galactic’s every space flight is manned… The fact that I am willing to fly with them proves my willingness to be on their team.” confidence,” Branson told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane. “I think the least the founder of the company can do is go up there and fly with his people.”