For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Billionaire Richard Branson is all set to soar to the edge of space Sunday morning, July 11, on the private rocket powered Virgin Galactic spaceplane that was designed and developed by the rocket company he founded and financed using billions of his own dollars, on a suborbital test flight with a crew of six Virgin employees – starting a new chapter in commercial human spaceflight and the beginning of a new space age and space race and beating out billionaire Jeff Bezos flight to space by just nine days.
The 70-year-old Branson’s maiden spaceflight has generated enormous public and media interest and will be broadcast live via a global livestream – as he and the crew experience ‘the journey of a lifetime.‘
Bezos is developing an alternative suborbital rocket system likewise bankrolled with billions of dollars through his self-financed Blue Origin rocket company.
Branson and Bezos are engaged in a high stakes competition between the two billionaire moguls offering to send paying customers on suborbital human tourist trips journeying high above Earth to the edge of space and back – culminating in their two trips nine days apart this month.
After nearly two decades of development, delays and setbacks including a tragic and deadly in-flight accident back in 2014 that resulted in a spaceship breakup and crash and death of one pilot, Sir Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, hopes to fulfil his lifelong dream of traveling to space – even if it is for only a few minutes to experience the sight of the beautiful and fragile Earth and weightlessness beyond the discernable atmosphere and gazing into the blackness and vastness of outer space.
At this point it’s looking like Sir Richard Branson will win the Billionaires Space Race between Branson and Bezos of who flies first to space on his own spaceship – which reached a fever pitch after Bezos announced he would fly aboard the first human flight of his competing New Shepard commercial rocket and capsule on July 20 – a date chosen to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of NASA’s first human landing mission on the moon on the Apollo 11 lunar landing flight.
Right after the Bezos Blue Orion flight announcement Branson than one upped Bezos and announced on July 1 that he would fly on Virgin Galactic’s next test flight on the SpaceShipTwo “Unity 22” spaceplane on July 11.
“Virgin Galactic today announced that the flight window for the next rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity opens July 11, pending weather and technical checks,” Virgin Galactic confirmed.
Join us July 11th for our first fully crewed rocket powered test flight, and the beginning of a new space age.
The countdown begins. #Unity22
https://t.co/5UalYT7Hjb. @RichardBranson pic.twitter.com/ZL9xbCeWQX
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 1, 2021
Both Branson and Bezos have dreamed of flying to space since childhood and see exploring space as critical for the future of humanity.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight,” he tweeted.
I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalactic spaceflight https://t.co/x0ksfnuEQ3 #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/GWskcMSXyA
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 1, 2021
Both commercial ventures will fly to the edge of space to approximately some 50+ to 62+ miles altitude above Earth for spectacular but brief views – but neither will achieve orbit unlike the much more powerful rockets and spacecraft being developed by a third space loving Billionaire – namely Elon Musk the CEO of SpaceX.
Branson is flying aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceship taking off from Spaceport America near the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico to personally evaluate “the private astronaut experience” and make sure he works to “enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers” – and most importantly to prove its safe to his hundreds of customers!
To date over 600 people have reserved seats and plunked down cold hard cash at a price of some $250,000 – and they have been waiting a very very long time, over a decade for most of them since tickets went up for sale and quickly sold out.
Both Branson and Bezos will be flying science experiments for NASA and perhaps astronauts in the future.
NASA plant growth science experiment details on Branson’s Unity 22 flight here:
? This Sunday, July 11, @VirginGalactic will attempt its first fully crewed spaceflight, #Unity22! @NASA_Technology will also be catching a ride to suborbital space. Get to know the science on board: https://t.co/9p6FStEazX pic.twitter.com/or3ClqAog8
— NASA (@NASA) July 9, 2021
Branson and his crew of six will first be carried aloft inside VSS Unity spaceplane to an altitude of some 45,000 feet while attached to the belly of the twin fuselage Virgin Mothership Eve (VMS).
After about 45 minutes they will then be air dropped for a rocket powered ignition, ascent and flight to over 50+ miles aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceship.
The entire trip will last about 90 minutes with about three minutes of weightlessness and end with a runway landing like the space shuttle on the 12,000-foot-long runway at Spaceport America.
VMS Eve takeoff is expected around 9 a.m. EDT Sunday when the four-engine “mothership” fires up its engines with two pilots.
Overall the “Unity 22” mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the Company’s fourth crewed spaceflight.
Unity 22 crew is comprised of four mission specialists – including Branson as they are called and two pilots.
“Unity 22” will also be “the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.”
Branson will fly as ‘Astronaut 001,’ he said.
The six person crew comprises Dave Mackay, Chief Pilot, Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer, Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Galactic, Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations, Michael Masucci, Pilot.
To date Virgin Galactic has conducted three successful test flight to the edge of space during December 2018, February 2019 and most recently May 22.
Following the successful flight on May 22, the FAA granted a full commercial launch license:
Full Commercial Launch license ✅ Our recent #Unity21 spaceflight performed well against all flight objectives and marks the first time the FAA has licensed a spaceline to fly customers. Next up in our test program – a fully crewed spaceflight this Summer https://t.co/y0P69gofbK pic.twitter.com/fAUWxp8YNy
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) June 25, 2021
You can watch all the excitement live!
Stephen Colbert will serve as the livestream host – in a late breaking announcement. So its sure to be fun and funny!
For the first time, Virgin Galactic announced they will share a global livestream of the spaceflight. Audiences around the world are invited to participate virtually in the Unity 22 test flight and see first-hand the extraordinary experience Virgin Galactic is creating for future astronauts. The livestream will be available to watch on Virgin Galactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 7:00 am MDT / 9:00 am EDT on the day of the flight.
Watch the Virgin Galactic Global Livestream Webcast here:
Video Caption: Join us July 11th for our first fully crewed rocket powered test flight, and the beginning of a new space age. Aboard #Unity22 will be our team of two pilots and four mission specialists, including Sir Richard Branson. They will put our Future Astronaut spaceflight experience to a final test, while giving the world a preview of the life-changing experience.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will be part of the Virgin Galactic live stream team:
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 10, 2021
Singer Khalid will premiere his new single “New Normal”
I’m going to Spaceport America with @VirginGalactic on 7/11 to premiere my single “New Normal” at the launch of #Unity22 with @RichardBranson. Watch it live on https://t.co/9UqwiMG8me. See you guys there ?
— Khalid (@thegreatkhalid) July 9, 2021
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good,” said Branson.
“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality. As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”
Watch this video to see how VSS Unity is attached to mothership VMS Eve inside the hangar for pre-flight preparations:
3 days until #Unity22! Come inside the hangar for pre-flight preparations as our spaceship VSS Unity joins forces with our mothership VMS Eve. Watch the launch live this Sunday at 6 am PT | 9 am ET | 2 pm BST. https://t.co/WEBNyUYpRQ pic.twitter.com/xakebHTN5T
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 8, 2021
Here’s a description of the Unity 22 crew from Virgin Galactic:
The flight’s four mission specialists will be:
- Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic. Moses will serve as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
- Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic. Bennett will evaluate cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment.
- Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic. Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.
- Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. Branson will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts. The Company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers.
The pilots for this mission are Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.
Following this flight, the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights with paying passengers is currently expected to commence starting in 2022 after two additional test flights this year.
After this flight “the team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program,” said Virgin.
“Including NASA’s first two Mercury missions, 13 X-15 test flights above 50 miles and three 2004 flights by a precursor to Virgin’s spaceplane, Branson’s flight will be the 23rd sub-orbital launch since 1961,” says CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood.
Blue Origin posted a taunting tweet yesterday claiming that Branson is not actually reaching the internationally recognized von Kármán line stating the edge of space is 100 km (62 miles) altitude.
From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
I have done two TV interviews about the ‘Billionaires Space Race between Branson and Bezos’ for WESH 2 NBC News Orlando and TRT Turkish TV
Here’s the WESH 2 NBC Orlando News story featuring my comments about the Billionaires Space Race
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about commercial human spaceflight, Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, SpaceX, ULA, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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