A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.
“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said in a Nov. 24 news release.
Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.
Early this morning, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic achieved a major milestone in the development of commercial space travel. Along with a team of specialists, Branson traveled to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity and made it safely back to Earth. In so doing, Branson and his company have also fired the latest salvo in the ongoing race between the titans of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace).
It’s no secret that the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace) has become immensely lucrative in recent years, nor the fact that it has become intensely competitive as a result. To illustrate, one needs to look no further than the top three NewSpace companies in the world right now: SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic. Between these three companies, all founded by billionaires with similar visions, a new space race has begun.
In recent months, the race has intensified as Jeff Bezos announced that he would be going to space on the inaugural flight of the New Shepard rocket. In response, Virgin Galactic founder and CEO Richard Branson announced earlier this week that he would fly aboard the VSS Unity as it makes its latest test flight. If successful, this mission – scheduled for Sunday, July 11th (weather permitting) – will see Branson become the first billionaire to go to space.
Virgin Galactic says it’s received the Federal Aviation Administration’s go-ahead to fly customers on its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, marking a significant step in a commercial rollout that could also feature dueling space billionaires.
On July 20th,, Blue Origin will conduct the first crewed launch of their New Shepard rocket, the reusable launch vehicle that will send small payloads and customers to space. In addition to Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, the company announced that one of the seats was being left open for auction. On Saturday, June 12th, the company announced that the auction had closed with a winning bid of $28 million USD.
In recent years, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has watched his commercial space company, Blue Origin, lose ground to the competition. While SpaceX has progressed by leaps and bounds towards realizing regular launches to the Moon and Mars (with the fully-reusable Starship), Blue Origin has been stuck in development hell with its launch vehicles. For this reason, Bezos announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of Amazon to focus on his fledgling space company.
So far, this decision has borne fruit, with the successful suborbital flight test of the New Shepard rocket that took place this past April. Stepping things up a notch, Bezos recently announced that when the first crewed flight of the New Shepard happens later this summer, he will be among the passengers. Scheduled to take place on July 20th, this mission will see Bezos and his younger brother Mark become the first billionaire space tycoon to launch to space.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane crossed its 50-mile-high space boundary over New Mexico for the first time today, after months of challenges.
The trip by VSS Unity marks the first time a spacecraft has been launched so high from a New Mexico spaceport. Unity passed the 50-mile mark twice during tests at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, in 2018 and 2019. Since then, the plane and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane, dubbed VMS Eve, have been transferred to their operational home base at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
Virgin Galactic lit up SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor for the first time in the skies over New Mexico today, but only for an instant before the engine shut down and the plane glided back to a safe landing at Spaceport America.
The flight test team had hoped that the SpaceShipTwo craft known as VSS Unity might make it all the way to the 50-mile space milestone with two test pilots at the controls. Unity has made it that high up twice before, in 2018 and 2019, when the test operation was based at Mojave Air and Space Port in California — but this was the first powered test flight planned since operations moved to Spaceport America.
And last week (Monday, August 3rd), the company announced that it had entered into a partnership with engine-maker Rolls-Royce to build a supersonic commercial aircraft that would travel three times the speed of sound (Mach 3). If realized, the proposed aerospace vehicle will carry 19 passengers to altitudes of more than 18,000 meters (60,000 ft) while travelling at speeds 50% faster than the Concorde.
SpaceX has been making some exciting moves this summer. On May 30th, their Crew Dragon spacecraft launched on its historic Demo-2 mission, carrying astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the ISS. They safely returned again on August 2nd, shortly after the SN5 prototype conducted the long-awaited 150 m (500 ft) hop test at the company’s launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
And now, in a move that mirrors what Virgin Galactic is doing at Spaceport America in New Mexico, SpaceX has committed to turning Brownsville – the town nearest to the Boca Chica facility – into its own spaceport. To this end, SpaceX recently posted a job application on its website where they announced they are seeking a Resort Development Manager. Potential applicants should follow the link if they think they’re up to the task!