Virgin Galactic: When is Richard Branson's space mission, how to watch - and billionaire 'space race' explained

The Virgin Atlantic flight could be the next step for broadening the access to space for the rest of the human race
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Sir Richard Branson will attempt to become the first billionaire to leave earth as the mega-rich ‘space race’ heats up.

It means Branson has left behind other space hopefuls, including billionaire Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Space tourism has become an obsession of billionaires in recent years with Musk even stating his intention for his company, SpaceX, to build spacecraft which could help humanity colonise Mars.

As Branson prepares to fly on Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight – here’s what you need to know.

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When is Richard Branson going into space?

Branson prepares to fly on Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight to the edge of space on July 11 – with four astronauts and two pilots.

Sir Richard Branson is launching his fully crewed space flight from New Mexico on 11 July (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Sir Richard Branson is launching his fully crewed space flight from New Mexico on 11 July (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sir Richard Branson is launching his fully crewed space flight from New Mexico on 11 July (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The ‘Unity 22’ mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight.

It will launch from New Mexico after Virgin Galactic was given the go-ahead to fly paying customers to space when its licence was updated by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier in July.

The company said it wants to demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments and confirm the training programme at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience.

Speaking ahead of his upcoming space flight, Sir Richard said: “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us.”

How can I watch Virgin Galantic launch?

Richard Branson is live-streaming the flight on at 2pm BST and simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels.

Although weather and technical glitches could delay the flight - which is predicted to last about 90 minutes.

Branson said: “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.

“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.”

What other space mission attempts has Richard Branson made?

Branson was the first to take steps towards commercial space flights.

He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 and initially intended to launch a private spacecraft by 2009 before delays scuppered his plans.

Since then he’s faced a number of setbacks for Virgin Galactic including the death of a pilot aboard the VSS Enterprise during a test flight which broke up and crashed in the Mojave Desert in October 2014.

How much are Musk, Branson and Bezos worth?

Sir Richard got his start in business by using Student, a magazine he founded in 1968, as a springboard to launch a mail-order record company which led him to start Virgin Records, his first major venture.

He used the success of Virgin Records to launch into a number of industries with Virgin branding, including an airline, gyms, publishing and an ill-fated cola brand.

Branson now has a net worth of £4 billion.

Founder and former chief executive of Amazon, Bezos, created the world’s largest online retailer.

He founded Amazon as an online bookstore before branching out into consumer goods in 1998. He is also owner of space company Blue Origin and the Washington Post with a net worth of currently £154 billion.

Musk is best known for being the eccentric chief executive of Tesla, the electric car company, but made his fortune by founding PayPal, the online payment service.

He has become a leading proponent of cryptocurrency, even accepting payment for Tesla cars in Bitcoin for a period earlier this year and has a net worth of £129 billion.

How much does a seat on Virgin Galactic cost – and what’s the ‘space race’?

Tourists are expected to pay some 250,000 dollars (£180,000) for a spaceflight on Virgin Galactic, which includes four minutes of zero gravity.

Branson announced the flight shortly after Bezos announced his planned launch on June 20 - but denied he is trying to beat his fellow billionaire.

It means Branson will become the first owner-astronaut to take part in a mission, beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who plans to reach space in his own rocket – through his Blue Origin company – in nine days’ time.

The Sunday Times says Musk – who owns rival exploration company – has now paid for a seat on a future Virgin voyage.

Mr Musk paid a 10,000-dollar (£7,000) deposit to reserve a seat. No date for his flight has been specified.

Branson confirmed the purchase in an interview with The Sunday Times, saying he might reciprocate by booking a ticket on a SpaceX flight in the future.

“Elon’s a friend and maybe I’ll travel on one of his ships one day,” he said.

Amid what has been dubbed the billionaires’ space race, SpaceX has launched dozens of rockets, including manned flights, but Mr Musk himself has not yet flown on any. The company is due to launch its first fully private spaceflight in the autumn.

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