Billionaires and their spaceships: What else about space tourism? | Business and Economy News
Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. The 70-year-old billionaire rocket to the stars on a fully crew Virgin Galactic spacecraft Sunday morning – at least nine days before rival space tycoon Jeff Bezos hopes to try to reach the edge of space on a Blue Origin spacecraft.
Branson’s successful flight is more than just a victory in a space race among billionaires; it opens the initial weapon in a new era that could open up space travel beyond government programs for non-professional astronauts – and in doing so provides another impetus to a rapidly evolving space economy.
Following Sunday’s success, Virgin Galactic expects to launch commercial flights in suborbital space next year. To date, the firm has sold about 600 tickets, reaching a price of nearly $ 250,000 each. Some of the paid travelers include celebrities like Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga as well as the other space billionaire, Elon Musk.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid,” Branson said after his return to the firm grounds on Sunday. “But honestly, nothing can prepare you for the view of the Earth from space.”
Always a salesman, Branson has claimed a big win for Virgin Galactic, which he founded. But the richest man in the world – Jeff Bezos – is also competing for a share of the space commercial market with its company, Blue Origin.
And Bezo’s ambitions do not end here. Blue Origin also wants to build space infrastructure and help NASA return to the moon, just like Elon Musk’s private space firm, SpaceX.
Blue Origin was part of a team that lost to SpaceX on a multi-billion dollar contract to build NASA’s next human landing system to transport astronauts to the surface of the Moon. An official protest to oppose the award was presented by Bezos’s firm. A decision on that is expected sometime in August.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin is building a new massive rocket, called the New Glenn, which will compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. That rocket is estimated to start flying somewhere next year.
Racing in space
Historically, space has been a field that belonged only to the military or their respective space governments and agencies, such as NASA and Roscosmos of Russia. But in recent years, there has been a paradigm shift, with more and more private companies making a name for themselves by placing devices in space.
Instead of building all the hardware itself, NASA has turned to the private sector to help cut costs and drive innovation. The United States Space Agency is reaping the fruits of that work now with its commercial crew and cargo programs.
SpaceX has successfully launched three different astronaut missions in space, reducing the cost of space travel by millions. Right now, a seat in the Crew Dragon capsule costs NASA about $ 55 million versus the $ 90 million NASA was paying Roscosmos for a trip to Soyuz.
Although Musk, Bezos, and Branson are currently grabbing top titles, it was another billionaire named Peter Diamandis who took the first important steps toward opening up space for commercial players in the late 1990s, creating a competition he hoped would would ignite a thriving private space industry: the X price.
This initial race challenged teams across the globe to build a spaceship capable of transporting people into space several times. The first team to start successfully (and do it twice in a short period of time) will win a $ 10 million prize.
It would take almost a decade before the award was received. A team led by Burt Rutan built a small, powerful rocket vehicle, called SpaceShipOne, which was designed to be launched from a plane, like NASA’s old X-15s.
The success of the craft was an inspiration to many, as Diamandis hoped, and caught the attention of a particular space enthusiast – Sir Richard Branson. He bought Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, and founded his own space company, Virgin Galactic, in 2004. He then decided to work on building the next-generation spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo.
The updated ship would transport a total of six passengers into space and launch a thriving space tourism industry. Or so he hoped it would. Building something that will fly in space proved to be quite a challenge. Virgin Galactic suffered losses during a catastrophic failure of its SpaceShipTwo in 2014, which resulted in the death of one of its pilots.
But Branson and his team of engineers insisted. That determination paid off when the company finally reached space in 2018. Additional test flights, including one with the company’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, laid the groundwork for the historic Branson flight on Sunday.
“Today was the result of years of hard work and sacrifice by many,” George Whitesides, chairman of the Virgin Galactic Space Advisory Board, told Al Jazeera. “The growing flight of space will change the future of humanity for the better, and this flight helps to make it happen.”
Branson and three other crew members joined SpaceShipTwo Sunday morning after a 90-minute delay due to weak desert weather in New Mexico, USA The astronaut quartet along with their two pilots successfully completed a suborbital test flight at the edge of the seat, designed to prove that the Branson space plane is ready for those passengers who can afford the final thrill ride.
Closing the board of the billionaire on board Unity were pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, along with Virgin astronauts coach Beth Moses, flight engineer Colin Bennett and the company’s vice president of government relations, Sirisha Bandla.
Branson’s voyage began in dramatic fashion as the Virgin Virgin Galactic massive aircraft – with the VSS Unity rocket aircraft wrapped under its wing – took off from the launch site of Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico at 8:40 morning with local time (14:40 GMT) after a 90 minute delay due to bad weather.
The company lifted all live broadcast bans, which was hosted by Stephen Colbert, and included a live performance by musician R&B Khalid after the crew returned to Earth. It was sleek, it was hip, it was all you expected from an emerging tourism trading company.
The theaters were backed by the success of the current mission, with the spacecraft, called the Unity, magnifying at an altitude of just over 80 km (50 miles) – NASA’s definition of space – giving Branson and his five companions crew about three minutes without weight along with breathtaking views of the Earth before they plunge back into the atmosphere for a spiral descent to be touched back at the starting point of Virgin New Mexico.
The successful flight essentially raised Bezos, who is planning a suborbital space flight of his own next week.
Bezos announced he would be flying alongside his brother and an unnamed mystery bidder who won a seat on the flight during a private auction last month by taking advantage of the Club for the Future, the Blue Origin charity that supports science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The winning bid brought in $ 28 million.
The trio will join 82-year-old Wally Funk, an accomplished aviator who has waited six decades to go into space. She was originally part of the women in NASA’s Mercury 13 space program – a group of female candidates for astronauts who in 1961 underwent the same tests as NASA’s original group of astronauts, Mercury 7.
Funk, who is set to become the oldest person to ever fly into space next week – a record previously held by John Glenn when he flew the Discovery spacecraft at age 77 – never gave up on the dream its about becoming an astronaut.
“I never let anything stop me,” Funk told Al Jazeera. “I know that my body and my mind can take everything that any space outfit wants to give me: high-altitude room test, which is good; centrifuge test, which I know I can do five and six Gs. “These things are easy for me.”
Funk holds the record, set in 1961, for the longest time in an isolation tank – lasting more than 10 hours and breaking the record held by John Glenn. This experience will be useful as Blue Origin flight participants must pass certain medical qualifications as part of the flight requirements.
Funk, along with another big name in the space industry – Elon Musk – has bought tickets to Virgin Galactic. It is unclear when it will fly or whether Funk will still retain its reservation after purchasing it before being selected by Blue Origin.
In response to Musk’s purchase over the weekend, Branson said he could return it one day and buy a ticket on a SpaceX trip. And Musk was there to greet Branson on Sunday.
Compete for customers
In a sign of heat competition for the commercial space flight market, Blue Origin took to Twitter on July 9 to highlight the differences between it and Virgin Galactic – showing changes in altitude as well as the number of test flights. Blue Origin also boasted of having the “biggest windows” in space. (This is until you look at the dome at the International Space Station.)
Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones helped shed light on which design is actually best. According to the former spacecraft four times, both models have their advantages. “Perhaps the simplest capsule design is cheaper to develop and fly than an airplane, but the airplane may be able to fly more often, as it does not require parachutes, but relies on a runway,” he told Al Jazeera. .
Despite his company’s Twitter boasting, Bezos took to Instagram to compliment Branson and his team after they landed, posting a note saying “congratulations on the flight. I can’t wait to join the club!”
It came one step closer Monday after the FAA gave final approval to Blue Origin to transport humans into space on its New Shephard launch system.
If all goes according to plan, Bezos will become the second private space tycoon to join the “billionaires in space” club on July 20 – the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.