Richard Branson: ‘I would love Jeff Bezos to come and see our flight off’

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Richard Branson, British billionaire, and entrepreneur, announced late Thursday that he would plan to attend space on July 11, just nine days before the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, will make his own spaceflight. But whilst he effectively cut before Bezos, Branson dismissed the notion of it being a “race” and went thus far on inviting his fellow billionaire to return watch. The Virgin Galactic founder told CNN Business during a Friday interview that his surprise announcement about making his long-awaited trip to space next week on a Virgin Galactic spaceplane was a coincidence, and had nothing to try to do with Bezos’s timing. Bezos said last month he would fly on July 20 aboard a rocket built by his own space company, Blue Origin.

“I do not know needless to say exactly when Jeff Bezos goes, he may plan to go before us, but I honestly don’t see this as an area race,” Branson told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane. “I would love for Jeff to return and see our flight off whenever it takes place. i might like to go and watch him enter his flight, and that I think both folks will wish one another well.” Since the first 2000s, Branson and Bezos are vying to develop, test, and launch suborbital rockets which will take wealthy thrillseekers on brief, 2,300-mile-per-hour rides a couple of dozen miles above Earth. And their efforts have long been framed as a “billionaire space race.” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s name is additionally often thrown around within the “space race” game, but the orbital rockets SpaceX builds are much more powerful than the suborbital tourism rockets built by Branson and Bezos, requiring more infrastructure to launch. Musk has said little about his personal space ambitions beyond that he’d “like to die on Mars — just not on impact.”

In interviews, Branson has repeatedly said he is not curious about any kind of cosmic race. But his decision to get to space on July 11 wasn’t a part of the testing roadmap laid out earlier this year by Virgin Galactic. He told CNN, however, that any suggestion that Virgin Galactic could also be compromising safety in an attempt to urge Branson to space before Bezos is “completely wrong.” “You’ve needed to remember that Virgin Galactic has people on every spaceflight…The fact that I’m willing to fly with those people shows confidence,” Branson said. “I think the smallest amount the founding father of the corporate can do is go up there and fly together with his people.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, called SpaceShipTwo, has been in development for overflow a decade, and it functions much differently than Blue Origin’s fully autonomous rocket that lifts off vertically from a launchpad. SpaceShipTwo flies from an airplane runway attached beneath the wing of a huge, custom-designed quad-jet double-fuselage mothership referred to as WhiteKnightTwo. Once the mothership reaches about 40,000 feet, the rocket-powered plane is dropped from in between WhiteKnightTwo’s fuselages, and fires up its engine, and swoops directly upward, accelerating up to quite 3 times the speed of sound, or 2,300 miles an hour. Once it reaches the very top of its flight path, it hangs, suspended in microgravity, because it flips onto its belly before gliding backtrack to a runway landing. From takeoff to landing, the entire trip takes roughly an hour.

Virgin Galactic had planned to start out flying customers years ago, but its development program was set back by several mishaps, including a 2014 test fight accident that resulted in the death of a co-pilot. Still, quite 600 people have agreed to pay between $200,000 and $250,000 to order a seat aboard one among the company’s space planes, and Virgin Galactic said it’s expecting a huge influx of latest ticket orders when it reopens sales — at a better price point — within the near future.

Bezos’ Blue Origin has not yet begun selling tickets to the overall public, but one seat on Bezos’ upcoming flight is going to be taken by an auction winner who agreed to pay $28 million. The auction winner has not yet been named, but he or she is going to fly alongside Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot and one among the “Mercury 13” women who trained to travel to space within the 1960s but was never given the chance to fly. After Branson’s flight, Virgin Galactic is predicted to conduct another test flight which will host an Italian Air Force research mission before beginning commercial operations.

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