Published on : Monday, May 28, 2018
Virgin boss Richard Branson says he’s getting ready to don his astronaut garb for its first commercial suborbital space trip only weeks after Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane completed its first powered test flight.
Branson said Virgin Galactic’s debut mission was “months away, not years away, so it’s close,” adding that there are “exciting times ahead.”
The billionaire entrepreneur founded space tourism company Virgin Galactic in 2004, and is racing against rivals — Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin among them — to become the first to offer a service for moneyed folks in search of a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. And Branson is determined to be on board when the VSS Unity heads skyward on its debut outing for tourists.
While Musk’s SpaceX has been making significant progress with efforts to deploy satellites and send cargo to the International Space Station via the company’s reusable rocket system, Branson believes Virgin Galactic’s immediate competitor in the tourism-related space race is Bezos’ Blue Origin, whose New Shepard rocket has so far completed eight successful test launches since its first one in 2015.
Branson said he believes his team is “neck and neck” with Blue Origin when it comes to getting paying punters into space.
While both Unity and Blue Origin’s vehicles can carry up to six passengers, the travel experience in each will be very different. Blue Origin’s system involves a rocket launch whereas Virgin Galactic’s jet-powered WhiteKnightTwo takes off from a runway before Unity’s rocket engine fires up. The return journey is also different, with Unity gliding back for a runway landing, and New Shepard’s capsule deploying parachutes for touchdown.
Virgin Galactic is aiming to start its tourism service in the next one year. The company has already taken nearly 700 bookings for its suborbital flights, with each ticket costing a hefty $250,000. The company said that the growing list of travellers means anyone booking a ticket today was likely to have to wait until 2021 before they’ll be able to enjoy their out-of-this-world experience.