Virgin Galactic has announced its plans to launch a crew of four to space on July 11, less than two weeks before Blue Origin is slated to launch their maiden crewed New Shepard flight.
In a Twitter announcement on July 1, billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson revealed he would attempt to beat fellow billionaire and founder of Blue Origin Jeff Bezos to Space.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars,” wrote Branson. “On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next VirginGalactic spaceflight.”
The flight is expected to carry pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci and a crew of four mission specialists, one of which will be Bransom himself. The other three mission specialists are Beth Moses (Chief Astronaut Instructor), Colin Bennett (Lead Operations Engineer), and Sirisha Bandla (Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations).
If the flight is successful, Branson will have beaten out Bezos by just nine days.
Blue Origin is slated to launch their maiden crewed New Shepard flight on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The flight will include Bezos and his brother, Mercury 13 member Wally Funk, and the winner of a several-week-long auction run by Blue Origin, who is yet to be identified.
Founded in 2000, Blue Origin has been working on a suborbital launch system to carry customers to the edge of space as well as a large orbital-class rocket. According to Bezos himself, the billionaire invests approximately a billion dollars a year in funding in the launch provider. If true, that would mean that he has spent approximately $21 billion and achieved very little thus far.
In contrast, Virgin Galactic was founded in 2014 with Branson choosing to build on existing technology created by Scaled Composites. Since then, the company has developed the SpaceShipTwo spaceplane in conjunction with its subsidiary The Spaceship Company and completed three successful crewed flights each with a crew of two pilots.
Although getting there first will be a feather in either operator’s hat, both will need to prove that there is a sustainable market for short suborbital spaceflights costing north of $250,000.