Time.news – The founder of the Virgin group Richard Branson has succeeded in being the first “space tourist” in history: aboard his SpaceShipTwo Unity, a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, he made a flight that lasted about an hour and for about a quarter of an hour he was able to look at the earth from 90 kilometers away.
Branson’s mission anticipates by nine days the one planned by Jeff Bezos who, after leaving the guide of Amazon, decided to devote himself to other projects including that of bringing wealthy passengers to float for a few minutes, in space, in zero gravity. . ù
After today’s one, Virgin Galactic plans to conduct two new test flights shortly, before moving on to the commercial offer phase, fully operational from next year. Virgin’s goal is to make 400 flights a year from Spaceport America; about 600 tickets have already been sold at a price between 200 and 250 thousand dollars, to as many people from about sixty different countries. With the exception of some flights made by Russia in recent years, today’s one is the first to inaugurate a season of tourism in space, starting a competition between Virgin and Amazon to win the business.
Here’s how the two groups face the challenge.
VIRGIN GALACTIC: created in 2004 by the British Richard Branson, it is part of the group that includes an airline and activities ranging from fitness to telecommunications. Branson, an eccentric 70-year-old billionaire, loves to cultivate the image of an adventurer. In recent years it has multiplied parasports exploits, including crossing the Atlantic in a balloon or the English Channel with an amphibious car.
To bring tourists into space, Virgin Galactic has developed a craft that doesn’t look like a classic rocket. It is a spaceship that is first docked under a transport plane, takes off from a traditional runway and gains altitude for about an hour. After reaching an altitude of 15 kilometers, the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft detaches, and with its engine sets off on a supersonic ascent to exceed 80 km of altitude, which is the border point with space for the United States.
The engine is then stopped and passengers can float in zero gravity up to 90 km away. To descend, the spacecraft glides until landing. SpaceShipTwo can accommodate two pilots and up to six passengers. The cabin contains 12 portholes and 16 cameras. During a test in 2014, the spacecraft broke in flight due to a pilot error, killing one of the pilots.
A new specimen, called VSS Unity, has already reached space three times, in 2018 and 2019, departing from California, and last May from New Mexico. In 2019 he also transported a passenger, an employee of the company.
BLUE ORIGIN: Blue Origin was launched in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, 57, the richest man in the world who built his legacy by focusing on the new economy, particularly with the creation of Amazon. In the case of Blue Origin, the reusable New Shepard rocket, which takes off in portrait mode, will take tourists into space.
It consists of a launcher about 16 meters high and, at its top, a semi-oval-shaped capsule. It accelerates beyond Mach 3, which is three times the speed of Earth’s gravity. At about 75 km of altitude, the capsule detaches to continue its trajectory, up to over 100 km, or the Karman line, which marks the beginning of space according to the international convention.
Passengers will have the ability to detach to float after which the capsule will begin a free fall to return to Earth, slowed by parachutes and rear rockets. The journey will last only 11 minutes and at the end the launcher will automatically return not far from the starting point.
The ultra-modern capsule contains six seats and six very large windows. The rocket has already carried out 15 test flights, but so far never with humans on board. The launches were carried out from the town of Van Horn, in West Texas. At the moment Blue Origin has not announced the start date of its commercial operations or the price of the ticket.
For the July 20 flight, only one seat was sold at auction: the mysterious winner, whose identity was not revealed, paid $ 28 million. It is known, however, that on board, in addition to Bezos himself, there will be his brother Mark, and Wally Funk, the 82-year-old legendary aviator who was denied permission to become an astronaut because she was a woman and who is now taking her revenge. Blue Origin will also carry out scientific missions to bring terrestrial experiences into space.