Richard Branson is the first billionaire to travel to space in a spacecraft developed by a company he created himself in 2004. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, will take off on July 20.
The billionaire Richard Branson took off on Sunday aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft that should take him to spend a few minutes in space, a trip he has always dreamed of and which should mark a turning point for space tourism.
A carrier plane took off at around 08:40 local time (14:40 GMT) from Spaceport America base in the US state of New Mexico.
It must gain altitude for approximately fifty minutes before releasing the ship hung under him — on board which are Richard Branson, three other passengers, and two pilots – which will then light its engine until reaching the space vacuum.
The Billionaires have already gone into space in the 2000s but onboard Russian rockets. Richard Branson is the first to make the trip in a rocket developed by a company he founded in 2004. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is scheduled to fly on July 20.
Another rival billionaire, SpaceX boss Elon Musk, was on hand Sunday to attend the event. Richard Branson’s official role during the flight: to test and evaluate the experience for future customers.
The VSS Unity ship – a copy of the SpaceShipTwo model – carries, in addition to Richard Branson, two pilots and three company employees. At some 15 kilometers high, it will be dropped and begin a supersonic ascent, to exceed 80 km in altitude – the height set in the United States for the frontier of space.
Once the engine is off, passengers can detach from their seats to float for a few minutes in zero gravity and admire the curvature of the Earth from one of the cabin’s 12 portholes. After a peak at about 90 km altitude, the ship will descend while hovering.
“When I was a child, I wanted to go to space”
The eccentric 70-year-old billionaire, the founder of the Virgin group (whose activities range from an airline to fitness), has long cultivated his hothead image.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to go to space. As it didn’t seem likely for my generation, I registered the Virgin Galactic name, with the idea of creating a company that could make it possible, ”wrote Richard Branson a few days before leaving.
An objective that almost came to an end in 2014: the in-flight accident of a Virgin Galactic vessel had caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.
Since then, VSS Unity has already reached three times space, including with a passenger in 2019. This Sunday, the event takes place at Spaceport America, a space base built in the New Mexico desert.
Virgin Galactic is at its construction initiative, largely financed by this state in the southwest of the United States, and is its main client. The base includes a runway more than 3.6 km long and a building with spaces dedicated to flight operations and the reception of future customers.
Virgin Galactic plans two new test flights
After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two new test flights and then regular commercial operations for early 2022. And ultimately aims to conduct 400 flights per year from Spaceport America.
Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries – including Hollywood celebrities – for a price of between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000.
Even if Richard Branson keeps repeating that according to him, “space belongs to all of us”, the adventure, therefore, remains within reach of only the privileged.
“On my return (from space), I will announce something very exciting to allow more people to become astronauts,” he promised.
The competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent advent has been announced for years, has accelerated tremendously this month: the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is also due to fly on July 20, with its rocket, named New Shepard and developed by its company Blue Origin.
The latter published a table this week extolling its merits over those of Virgin Galactic. Mr. Bezos nevertheless wished on Instagram “a successful flight” to Richard Branson.