Thrill-seeking billionaire Sir Richard Branson has reached space aboard his own winged rocket ship in his boldest adventure yet. Branson’s Sunday flight upstaged rival Jeff Bezos and his space company, Blue Origin by nine days in what is called “the billionaire space race”.
The space plane took off with a crowd of more than 500 people watching on including Mr Branson’s wife and children. It detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 13 kilometres and fired its engine in a bid to reach the edge of space.
The feat vaults the nearly 71-year-old past fellow billionaire and rival Jeff Bezos, who is planning to fly to space in a craft of his own nine days from now.
“The whole thing, it was just magical,” a jubilant Sir Richard said after the trip home aboard the gleaming white space plane, named Unity.
The brief, up-and-down flight — the rocket ship’s portion took only about 15 minutes — was a splashy and unabashedly commercial plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to start taking paying customers on rides next year.
With a crowd of more than 500 people watching, a twin-fuselage aircraft with Sir Richard’s space plane attached underneath took off in the first stage of the flight. Aboard were Sir Richard and five crew from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company.
The space plane then detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 13 kilometres and fired its engine in a bid to reach the edge of space about 88 kilometres up.
At the apex of the climb with the rocket shut down, the crew experienced a few minutes of near zero gravity before the spaceplane shifted into re-entry mode and began a gliding descent to a runway back at the spaceport. The entire flight, from takeoff to landing, lasted about an hour.
“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth,” he said in a video from space. “We’re here to make space more accessible to all,” he said. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age.”
Jeff Bezos posted a congratulatory note on Instagram after the flight landed.
“Congratulations on the flight,” he said. “Can’t wait to join the club!
In another nine days, on July 20, Jeff Bezos, Amazon executive chairman will blast off from a reusable rocket from a launchpad in west Texas with five others including his brother Mark. His crew will reach an altitude of roughly 100km (62 miles).
Bezos, the founder and former CEO of online retail giant Amazon.com, is slated to fly on board Blue Origin’s suborbital rocket ship, the New Shepard on July 20.
The US-based institutes like the USAF define space at 80km (50 miles) which is marginally different from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) which defines it at 100km (62 miles) above sea level. The Karman line is defined at almost 100km as well. NASA mission control defines the beginning of space at 122km (76 miles).
It is commonly attributed that space begins when the atmosphere alone is not enough to support a flying vessel at suborbital speeds.