Richard Branson already knows how he will react after the VSS Unity missile plane lands. As "Astronaut 001" he will hug his children and grandchildren and have a big grin on his face, says the British billionaire.
If everything goes according to plan, the entrepreneur symbolically wants the era of the commercial on this Sunday with his mission starting at 15 p.m. Space tourism initiate. Branson has especially brought forward the date for the flight of the unusual model including the carrier aircraft as a launch platform so that it is in space before the US billionaire Jeff Bezos. The Amazon founder has announced its premiere mission in its capsule for July 20th.
In the competition of billionaires who bet on the Space tourist business there are big differences - especially when it comes to technology and the associated risk. Branson's VSS Unity rocket aircraft is dropped from a carrier aircraft (VMS Eve) at high altitude and then ignites its rocket motor.
So far, this model has only briefly ascended to space height three times. The Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, on the other hand, relies on the classic rocket principle. A capsule sits on top of his reusable New Shepard rocket. The New Shepard model has already made 15 flights - but never with a person on board.
Branson, who will be 71 years old in a week, originally wanted to wait for a test flight of his rocket plane with a test crew before boarding himself. When the 57-year-old Bezos announced that he would start on July 20, Branson changed his plans and is now taking the greater risk to stay ahead.
Officially, Branson denies that he only changed his personal flight plan because of the rival, but almost nobody in the industry wants to believe him. Bezos deliberately chose July 20 as the start date for his flight. It would then be exactly 52 years after the first moon landing.
Childhood dreams and advertising drum
The colorful entrepreneur Branson, who built his current empire by selling records, has always been considered daring. Both in the private sector as a passionate balloonist and on expeditions, as well as in business with a wide variety of activities.
The portfolio of his conglomerate Virgin Group ranges from the entertainment sector to the airline Virgin Atlantic to the listed space company Virgin Galactic.
For both Branson and Amazon founder Bezos, their premiere flights are a mixture of their own childhood dreams and promotional events for their space tourism business. “I've always been a dreamer. My mom taught me never to give up and reach for the stars, ”Branson tweeted on July 2nd.
Now it is time to make this dream a reality. Branson and Bezos want to boost ticket sales for space flights with their flights.
Only short trips into space with a few minutes of weightlessness are planned, i.e. no complete orbits of the earth. The mission at Branson - officially known as the Unity 22 mission - takes about 90 minutes. It takes time for the carrier aircraft (White Night Two) to ascend as a flying launch platform from the launch site in the US state of New Mexico to an altitude of 15 kilometers, from where it then continues with rocket propulsion.
The space flight missions of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with the New Shepard rocket, on the other hand, only take a good ten minutes from the launch site in Texas.
Branson has already brought its space tourism business to the stock exchange with Virgin Galactic, founded in 2004. An estimated 750 people have already booked a ticket for around $ 250.000 and, after numerous delays, are waiting for it to finally start.
Branson starts with a higher weight
Even after a successful premiere flight with Branson, it is still unclear when the US regulatory authority FAA will finally give the go-ahead for commercial operation. First of all, all data must be evaluated. Allegedly, two more test flights are necessary even after the Branson flight.
It is not yet known what a flight in the capsule for six passengers costs at Jeff Bezos. In the event of a refusal, a seat on the first flight was auctioned off together with Bezos for an unbelievable 28 million dollars. Bezos also takes his brother with him, as well as the 82-year-old ex-pilot and ex-NASA astronaut Wally Funk as a guest of honor.
If she successfully flies with the chasuble, she will be the oldest person in space to date and thus take the title off the US astronaut John Glenn, who died in 2016, who was once again in space at 77.
Experts consider the Branson flight to be significantly more risky than the Bezos mission. It would only be the fourth flight that the rocket-propelled VSS Unity rocket plane soars. It is also the first flight with a six-person crew, so it is heavier than before.
In contrast to the fully automatically controlled mission of Jeff Bezos - Also no automatic flight control, but is steered manually by two pilots. A previous model (VSS Enterprise) crashed during a test flight in 2014. One pilot died, the other was injured and parachuted to save himself. In 2007, three engineers died in an engine explosion.
A remarkable expert discussion is now developing as to whether the flights of Branson's rocket plane are actually to be assessed as flights into space and whether the passengers may in future be able to call themselves astronauts. The VSS Unity model reached an altitude of between 51,4 and 55,9 miles or 82,7 and almost 90 kilometers on its three flights.
According to the rules of NASA and the US air traffic control authority FAA, the threshold to space, which begins at a height of 50 miles, has been crossed. But internationally, mostly 62 miles or 100 kilometers altitude are mentioned as a passage into space. This height is known in the industry as the Kármán line.
Pinpricks in the billionaires competition
It is one of the mutual pinpricks in the billionaires competition that Bezos refers to the performance of his missile capsule, which has already climbed several times to over 100 kilometers.
Another billionaire is involved in the battle for the space tourism business - Tesla boss Elon Musk and his space company SpaceX. The range from Musk is in a completely different league. He is not about short trips into space, but about circumnavigating the earth and flying to the moon.
From a technical point of view, it plays in the Champions League because its Crew Dragon capsule has already carried out manned flights to, for example, the International Space Station. Years ago he announced that tourists would be around the Moon wanting to fly.
It should be so far in 2023, including the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on board. US billionaire Jared Isaacman is slated to fly into space with SpaceX later this year.
In the next year SpaceX wants to undertake a tourist space flight to the ISS together with the US company Axiom Space and NASA. There are said to be three private individuals on board, each paying around $ 55 million per ticket including eight overnight stays.