‘Impressive!’: Richard Branson congratulates Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin’s 11-minute flight into space

Sir Richard Branson congratulated the crew aboard Tuesday morning’s successful Blue Origin flight as the ‘billionaire space race’ reached a convoluted conclusion.

‘Well done @blueorigin, @jeffbezos, Mark, Wally and Oliver. Impressive! Very best to all the crew from me and all the team at @virgingalactic,’ tweeted Branson of the Virgin Group Tuesday morning.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, 57, became the richest person in the world to go into space.

Branson, 70, congratulated Bezos and others on Tuesday’s flight

Bezos, 57, along with the three other astronauts, flew 66 miles above the surface of the Earth on the fully autonomous rocket and capsule New Shepard

Bezos, 57, along with the three other astronauts, flew 66 miles above the surface of the Earth on the fully autonomous rocket and capsule New Shepard

In the end, Branson was the first in the ‘billionaire space race’ to launch himself into space, but Bezos got farther, reaching 66 miles up compared to Branson’s 53, according to The Associated Press.

Branson, 70, completed his own trip on July 11.

His Virgin Galactic flight took an hour, while Bezos’ journey was completed in a little over 10 minutes.

The rocket and capsule from Bezos’ private space company Blue Origin safely touched down to Earth at 9.21am Eastern time.

SpaceX's Elon Musk wished Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos well on his flight to space. Musk, 50, tweeted, 'Best of luck tomorrow [Tuesday morning]

SpaceX’s Elon Musk wished Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos well on his flight to space. Musk, 50, tweeted, ‘Best of luck tomorrow [Tuesday morning]

Early Tuesday morning, Musk, 50, tweeted, ‘Best of luck tomorrow [Tuesday morning] as Bezos, his 53-year-old brother Mark, Mary Wallace ‘Wally’ Funk and 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen headed to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

At 82, Funk became the oldest person to fly to space, surpassing former NASA astronaut John Glenn. Daemen became the youngest.

The launch took place at 9.11am and the crew got to experience weightlessness for about four minutes.  

Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, who became the first billionaire in space, wished Bezos well

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, who became the first billionaire in space, wished Bezos well

Richard Branson flew 53 miles above the New Mexico desert during his recent trip to space

Richard Branson flew 53 miles above the New Mexico desert during his recent trip to space

Branson also wished Bezos well.

‘Best wishes [Jeff Bezos] and the Blue Origin crew from all of us at Virgin Galactic,’ Branson wrote on Bezos’ Instagram before the flight. 

The four astronauts flew more than 60 miles above the surface of the Earth on the fully autonomous rocket and capsule New Shepard.  

The group traveled in a capsule with the biggest windows flown into space, offering stunning views of the Earth, according to the space tourism company.

It is going to be a competitive market, with some estimates suggesting it could be worth up to several trillion dollars in future, with tickets costing up to $250,000 initially for a single seat to the edge of space. 

Blue Origin named the New Shepard program after astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to fly into space exactly 60 years ago Tuesday.

Fifteen previous test flights of the reusable rocket, which brings the capsule to an altitude of more than 340,000 fleet, and capsule since 2015 – short hops lasting about 10 minutes – were all successful.

Musk's SpaceX is competing with Bezos' Blue Origin for lucrative government contracts

Musk’s SpaceX is competing with Bezos’ Blue Origin for lucrative government contracts

Not only are Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are competing for media attention and the democratization of space, but all three are vying for lucrative government contracts, particularly Blue Origin and SpaceX.

According to The Wall Street Journal, SpaceX has received $2.8 billion in 52 contracts from NASA and the Pentagon over the past 14 federal fiscal years.

By comparison, Blue Origin, founded in 2000, has received $496.5 million in 33 contracts.

Both Blue Origin and SpaceX (along with Dynetics) received lucrative NASA contracts in 2020 to build lunar landing systems to carry NASA astronauts for Artemis moon missions.

A NASA spokesperson eventually confirmed Blue Origin would receive $579 million, while SpaceX and Dynetics would receive $135 million and $253 million, respectively.  

On July 13, Blue Origin received approval Monday from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard rocket into space on July 20.

New Shepard, which stands 60 feet tall, was specifically designed for Blue Origin’s space tourism venture and has successfully completed 15 test launches, with the latest on April 14.

The capsule that rides atop New Shepard seats six passengers and is equipped with reclining seats.

Each of the seats has a window that are said to the ‘the largest to fly into space.’

Cameras line the interior, allowing travelers to share their memories that are truly out of this world.

The crew traveled 66 miles above Earth’s surface, where they experienced weightlessness due to the zero gravity and saw the curve of the planet with the darkness of space as the backdrop.

Blue Origin’s maiden voyage traveled farther than Branson’s, who reached an altitude of 53.5 miles over the New Mexico desert before gliding safely back to Earth.

The Blue Origin crew spent about four minutes in free fall, though the company has stated in the past that paying customers will spend as much as 10 minutes in zero gravity before returning to Earth.  

The billionaire space race is fueled by optimism that space travel will become mainstream as nascent technology is proven and costs fall, fueling what UBS estimates could be a $3 billion annual tourism market by 2030.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, as well as Musk’s SpaceX, have also discussed using their rockets to link far-flung global cities.

UBS says that long-haul travel market could be worth more than $20 billion, though several barriers such as air-safety certification could derail the plans.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said: ‘Putting the world’s richest man and one of the most recognized figures in business into space is a massive advertisement for space as a domain for exploration, industrialization and investment.’

Blue Origin has not divulged its pricing strategy for future trips.

In 2018, Blue Origin said it was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 for the ride, based on a market study and other considerations, though its thinking may have changed. 

Washington state-based Blue Origin is largely self funded by Bezos, who has been selling over $1 billion worth of stock in Amazon per year to fund the company. 

The company recently conducted its first astronaut rehearsal in preparation for Tuesday morning’s flight.

The mock crew traveled the designated path of future spacefaring tourists, which included traveling to the launch pad and climbing up the tower to the passenger capsule.

While celebrities and the uber-rich appear to be a core market for space tourist jaunts, at least initially, industry sources expect Blue Origin to include some philanthropic component to its ticket strategy.

The idea of sending paying customers to the edge of space was once only a plot in science fiction films, but many companies other than Blue Origin are turning the epic journey into a reality.


Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin's space capsule

Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s 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 US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.

Amazon founder Bezos had looked set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20. 

The billionaire mogul will travel with his younger brother Mark, a charity auction winner who’s shelling out $28 million and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.

However, Branson has now announced he’s planning to make a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos and his brother. He revealed on Twitter that he plans to be Astronaut 001 on Virgin Galactic’s July 11 test flight.

Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit. 

SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.  

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached. 

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule

NASA has already selected two astronauts who will be on-board the first manned Dragon mission. 

SpaceX has also started sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network. 

Musk hopes this will provide an interconnected web of satellites around Earth which will beam down free internet to people worldwide.  

Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane. 

The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7). 

More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. 

Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX. 

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft

SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.

Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.

The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.   

Bezos is one of the richest men in the world and Blue Origin has successfully flown the New Shepard rocket 15 times.

At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.  

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