Branson’s company announced on Thursday evening that its next test flight will take place on 11 July and that its founder will be among the six people on board. All other passengers are company employees. It will be only the fourth trip to space for Virgin Galactic.
The winged rocket ship – the first carrying a full crew – will launch from New Mexico after the US Federal Aviation Administration gave Virgin permission to take paying customers to space in late June, after a successful test flight in May.
The news came just hours after Bezos’ Blue Origin said Bezos would be accompanied into space on 20 July by Wally Funk, a female aerospace pioneer.
Bezos plans to blast into space from West Texas on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He’ll be on the debut flight of a Blue Origin rocket with his brother, a female aerospace pioneer and the winner of a $28m charity auction.
Branson said he was “honoured” to be able to help “ensure his business delivers a unique customer experience”.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” he said.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality abo
On Wednesday Branson had declined to say when he would travel into space because of restrictions placed on him by his publicly traded company. But he stressed he was healthy and fit to fly as soon as his engineers give him the go. He will turn 71 a week after the scheduled launch.
Virgin Galactic launches its rocket ship from an aircraft, reaching an altitude of roughly 88km (55 miles). Blue Origin launches its New Shepard rocket from the ground, with its capsule soaring to about 106km (66 miles). Both those heights are considered the edge of space. By comparison, SpaceX launches its capsules – crew and cargo – into orbit around the world.
The main objectives of the next test flight will be “evaluating … seat comfort, the weightless experience and the views of Earth” in the space cabin, Virgin Galactic said.
The company said it also wants to demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments and confirm the training programme at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience.
Michael Colglazier, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Our next flight – the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test – is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work.”
ard the next @VirginGalactic,” he said via Twitter.