TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM (AP) – After a lifetime of aspiring to fly in space, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson was about to take off aboard his own rocket on Sunday on his most daring and grandiose adventure to ever this day.
The thrill-seeking billionaire has joined five company employees also assigned to the edge of space test flight over the desert of southern New Mexico.
Still the showman, Branson dramatically counted the days to take off via Twitter. He viewed the brief top-to-bottom trip as a confidence factor – not only for the 600-plus people who already had reservations and were waiting behind the scenes, but also for potential space tourists willing to shell out a few hundred thousand dollars. to try their luck. space.
The London-born Virgin Group founder, who will be 71 in a week, was not due to fly until later this summer. But he assigned himself to an earlier flight after Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos announced plans to fly his own rocket into space from West Texas on July 20.
Virgin Galactic doesn’t expect to start stealing customers until next year. Blue Origin has yet to open ticket sales or even announce pricing, but at the end of last week it bragged via Twitter that it would take customers higher and offer bigger windows.
Unlike Elon Musk’s Blue Origin and SpaceX, which launch capsules atop reusable booster rockets, Virgin Galactic uses a twin-fuselage aircraft to get its rocket off the ground. The spacecraft is freed from the mothership at about 44,000 feet (13,400 meters) in height, then fires its rocket motor to shoot straight into space. The maximum altitude is around 55 miles (70 kilometers), with three to four minutes of weightlessness provided.
The rocket plane – which requires two pilots – glides towards an airstrip at its Spaceport America base.
Virgin Galactic first reached space in 2018, repeating the feat in 2019 and again last May, each time with minimal crew. It received Federal Aviation Administration clearance last month to begin launching customers.
Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Florida.