Unconfirmed report suggests Branson may try to beat Bezos into space

Jeff Bezos (left) and Richard Branson (proper) may be in a really tight space race. Alex Wong/Getty Images; Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The billionaire space race seems to be in full swing, and it is getting shut. Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson may each have the sting of space of their sights subsequent month.

Bezos introduced on Monday that he plans to fly into space aboard the New Shepard rocket developed by Blue Origin, the aerospace firm he based in 2000. The launch is ready for July 20.

The following day, a report from Douglas Messier, who runs the longtime space weblog Parabolic Arc, indicated that Virgin Galactic may be racing to launch its personal founder, Branson, earlier than Bezos. A “source who requested anonymity” instructed Messier that the corporate plans to fly Branson on a check flight of its SpaceShipTwo rocket aircraft over the July Four weekend. That would poise Branson to beat Bezos to space by a slim two weeks.

According to Messier’s supply, the corporate started making these plans in response to Blue Origin setting the date for its first crewed flight. Blue Origin made that announcement on May 5 – lengthy earlier than Bezos shared that he can be on board.

Insider was not in a position to independently verify Messier’s report. But in a press release to Insider, a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic didn’t deny the report’s claims.

“At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight,” the spokesperson mentioned.

Branson’s flight is “expected in the summer months,” the spokesperson added, as is a separate check flight with 4 “mission specialists” – staff taking part in the position of future passengers.

Virgin Galactic has beforehand said that the mission specialists would fly earlier than Branson. But as of Wednesday, the spokesperson didn’t reply to a query about which of the 2 flights would come first.

“One could easily imagine just sort of swapping the flights, or having Richard Branson fly in one of those four seats, just as a test subject, if you will,” George Nield, a former affiliate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, the place he led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, instructed Insider.

Branson has “been in some pretty risky things in his career,” Nield added. “And he obviously believes in this program. If he’s comfortable that everything’s good and is willing to go himself, then more power to him.”

“It’s kind of amusing, these billionaires entertaining themselves by being on the first flights of their vehicles,” John Logsdon, the founding father of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, instructed Insider. “Starship is supposed to do an orbital test, too. Is Elon [Musk] going to take the bait and fly on that?”

Launching Branson by July Four is ‘very doable’

Virgin Galactic

A SpaceShipTwo space aircraft returns to Earth after a supersonic flight. Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic might simply get by way of the paperwork to fly Branson by July 4, in accordance to Nield.

“To me, it looks absolutely very doable,” he mentioned, although he emphasised that he’s not privy to communications between Virgin Galactic and the FAA, which licenses business rocket launches.

Virgin Galactic may need to modify its license with the FAA so as to fly Branson. The modification would permit the corporate to fly “participants” in addition to crew members (on this case, pilots and mission specialists). But Nield says that modification can be easy and fast, so long as the info from the final flight does not reveal any main points.

“The change in the license is just to say: ‘delete paragraph five,'” Nield mentioned. “So it’s not a big deal.”

Branson might even get a brand new position as a crew member – performing as a mission specialist, for instance. Then Virgin Galactic may not have to modify its license in any respect so as to fly him.

“In my opinion, there is nothing preventing Richard Branson from also flying as a member of the flight crew,” Nield mentioned. “He is an employee of the company, and they can assign him whatever duties they want to. That’s not something the FAA gets involved in. That’s up to the company.”

When Insider requested in regards to the report, an FAA spokesperson declined to touch upon whether or not Virgin Galactic was pursuing a launch subsequent month. Instead, the company identified the “participant” license modification.

It’s not clear how a lot Virgin Galactic would have to change or velocity up its unique plans so as to get Branson to space earlier than Bezos.

“If you hurry there’s always the possibility of cutting corners, but the people that are managing the flight have a pretty high incentive not to kill their boss,” Logsdon mentioned.

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