Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson travels to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc’s test flight on July 11, Branson’s space company said Thursday, beating fellow aspiring billionaire astronaut Jeff Bezos.
A successful flight with Branson aboard Virgin’s VSS Unity space plan would mark an important milestone in a race to usher in a new era of private commercial space travel.
It would also mean that Branson would travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere in front of Bezos, the founder of the rival space tourism venture Blue Origin.
Bezos, who founded retail giant Amazon.com Inc, is set to fly to space on July 20 with his brother Mark, the groundbreaking female pilot Wally Funk and a hitherto unidentified person who crashed $ 28 million to take part in the suborbital joyride.
Reuters reported last month that Branson was considering a show-stealing mission just days before Bezos’ planned trip.
The race, which also includes SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, is backed by optimism that space travel will become mainstream as emerging technology is proven and costs fall, boosting what UBS estimates could be an annual $ 3 billion tourism market by 2030. Musk has not set a date for his space flight.
“Virgin Galactic is at the forefront of a new commercial space industry set to open up space for humanity and change the world for the better,” Branson said in a statement accompanying Virgin’s announcement.
Branson’s July 11 mission will be the 21st flight test for VSS Unity, and the company’s fourth manned spaceflight, Virgin said.
But it will be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four “mission specialists” including Branson.
Two more test flights are planned before Virgin expects to begin commercial service in 2022, Virgin said.
(Report by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Edited by Muralikumar Anantharaman)