Chinese space tourism company’s rocket appears to be inspired by SpaceX and Blue Origin’s spacecraft
Jeff Bezos in front of the Blue Origin space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the United States beat the Soviet Union in the space race , and there is no doubt how much it would mean for each of them to win the “new space race”.
Amazon founder Bezos looked set to be the first of three to fly into space, after announcing plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20 , but Branson beat him to it.
The British billionaire became Virgin Galactic Astronaut 001 when he took to space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos – on July 11 on a test flight.
Bezos headed into space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student whose father bought his ticket, and pioneering astronaut Wally Funk, 82.
Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk said he wanted to go to space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he didn’t say when he might explode in orbit – but bought a ticket with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight.
SpaceX has become the first of the “space tourism” operators to send an all-civilian crew into orbit, with the Inspiration4 mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.
His flight was on a Dragon capsule and SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire Elon Musk and lifted off for the three-day orbital journey on September 16 – going higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX appears to be paving the way for the wider billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists into space by 2021.
On February 6, 2018, SpaceX sent a rocket into Mars orbit, 140 million kilometers away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
SpaceX also took two groups of astronauts to the International Space Station, with crews from NASA, ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
SpaceX has sent batches of 60 satellites into space to help train its Starlink network, which is already in beta and provides fast internet to rural areas.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. He has conducted successful test flights of Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane on several occasions.
The first was in December 2018 and the last on May 22, with the flight accelerating to over 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have booked a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space journeys. Final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket company SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic spaceship
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger has the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one above.
The spacecraft is 60 feet long with a 90-inch diameter cabin allowing astronauts maximum space to float in zero gravity.
He climbs to 50,000 feet before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier ship, White Knight II, once it crosses the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become “astronauts” when they reach the Karman Line, the limit of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft will then make a suborbital journey with about six minutes of weightlessness, the entire flight lasting about 1.5 hours.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he funds Blue Origin with around $1bn (£720m) worth of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurized crew capsule atop a reusable “New Shepard” booster rocket.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometers), just above the official threshold of space, and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.
Blue Origin is working on New Glenn, the next-generation heavy rocket, which will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9.