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Billionaire Space Race

Following the news of Bezos planning a trip to space rumors are circulating that Sir Richard Branson will also take off, and Virgin Galactic isn’t denying it.

While Blue Origin is holding most of the mainstream media’s attention, we’re looking at another billionaire who has their sights set on space travel. Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, may just be the first billionaire in space. After just 3 successful launches Virgin Galactic may send Branson to take off for their fourth trip.

According to a report from Douglas Messier, who is the owner of the space blog Parabolic Arc, implied that Virgin Galactic might launch the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane with its founder two weeks before Bezos.Though the date of Virgin Galactic’s next flight is not determined the paperwork could “easily” be completed by July 4. And let’s not forget that in May of 2013 Branson stated on Virgin Radio Dubai’s Kris Fade Morning Show that he would be aboard the first public flight of SpaceShipTwo.

SpaceShipTwo has completed 15 test flights attached to White Knight Two, and an additional 16 glide tests. The third rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo in 2014 was a success, though the fourth rocket-powered test flight of the company’s first SpaceShipTwo craft, VSS Enterprise, broke apart in midair ending in a fatality. The replacement SpaceShipTwo named VSS Unity completed its first flight, a successful glide test, in December 2016, and by the end of 2018, seven glide tests had been completed and performed a powered test flight, the first since 2014. In February 2019 they carried a third crew member in the passenger cabin for the first time. December 2020, a computer connection issue prevented engine ignition. The first Spaceship III, VSS Imagine, was rolled out on 30 March 2021.

Comparatively, New Shepard, Blue Origin’s rocket, has flown over a dozen successful test flights without passengers, the most recent one being this past April in West Texas.

The rumors about Virgin Galactic’s next flight comes after a newly signed agreement to fly a private researcher on a future suborbital flight, and also follows their $2 million agreement for the Italian Air Force research and astronaut training flights.

It’s no secret that Virgin Galactic has struggled, not just with turnover but also with a steady share price.Though things feel like they’re starting to settle with the space company.

In late July of 2020, Virgin Galactic announced their new chief executive officer, former Disney executive, Michael Colglazier. With each success the share price increases with the last jump being 38%, but there have been just as heavy drops. 

One big difference with Virgin Galactic is that they don’t launch rockets upward off of the ground. Their spacecraft are flown up to 50,000 feet at which point the broad, dual-fuselage jet named WhiteKnightTwo detaches and glides before firing up the rocket motor beginning a near-vertical ascent to nearly 300,000 feet.

Virgin Galactic’s successful launch at Spaceport America of the VSS Unity in late May of 2021 made New Mexico the 3rd U.S. state to launch humans into space. The 27 square mile commercial space “spaceport” seems to still be operational, according to their website. 

Virgin Galactic has sold 600 tickets for $200,000 to $250,000 a piece, though they’ll only start accepting passengers in 2022 and expect the prices to increase as they plan to eventually fly about 400 flights each year from its New Mexico Spaceport.

Tom Bower, author of “Branson: The Man behind the Mask,” told the Sunday Times: “They spent 10 years trying to perfect one engine and failed. They are now trying to use a different engine and get into space in six months. It’s just not feasible.”

Considering the risks involved, and Virgin’s safety record, is this a calculated move or billionaire showdown? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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