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Billionaire Richard Branson Returns to Earth After Space Flight

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Virgin Galactic boss Richard Branson reached space on Sunday, after blasting off aboard the VSS Unity from the United States. The ship then landed safely in New Mexico. This trip, which the British billionaire had always dreamed of, should mark a turning point for space tourism.

As announced, Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Galactic, flew to space on Sunday July 11 with three other passengers and two pilots. After liftoff, the spacecraft reached space, the space tourism company announced on Sunday. The craft then landed safely in New Mexico, United States, according to an AFP journalist on site.

The VSS Unity spacecraft touched down on a runway at Spaceport America at approximately 10:40 a.m. local time (4:40 p.m. GMT). Richard Branson, who while still aboard the ship descending to Earth described a “once in a lifetime experience”, is the first billionaire to have made the trip in a craft developed by a company he founded himself.

A carrier plane had taken off around 8:40 a.m. local time from the Spaceport America base in the US state of New Mexico. At some 15 kilometers altitude, the spacecraft detached from its carrier aircraft and began a supersonic ascent, until it exceeded 80 km altitude, the height set in the United States for the border of space. .

Once the engine was switched off, passengers were able to get out of their seats to float for a few minutes in weightlessness, and admire the curvature of the Earth from one of the cabin’s 12 portholes. After peaking at about 90 km altitude, the craft descended while gliding.

Billionaires have already traveled to space in the 2000s, but aboard Russian rockets. Richard Branson is thus the first to make the trip thanks to a machine developed by a company which he himself founded, in 2004. The founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos must fly on July 20.

“When I was a child, I wanted to go into space”

Another rival billionaire, SpaceX boss Elon Musk, was on hand to attend the event on Sunday. Richard Branson’s official role during the flight: to test and evaluate the experience that future customers will have.

The eccentric 70-year-old billionaire, founder of the Virgin group (whose activities range from an airline to fitness), has long cultivated his image as a hothead.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to go into space. As it didn’t seem likely for my generation, I registered the name of Virgin Galactic, with the idea of ​​creating a company that could make it possible”, wrote Richard Branson a few days before departure.

A goal that almost came to an end in 2014: the accident in flight of a Virgin Galactic vessel had caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.

Since then, the VSS Unity has already reached space three times, including with a passenger in 2019. This Sunday, the event took place at Spaceport America, a space base built in the New Mexico desert.

Virgin Galactic is at the initiative of its construction, largely financed by this state in the south-west of the United States, and is the main customer. The base includes a runway over 3.6 km long and a building with spaces dedicated to flight operations, as well as to welcoming future customers.

Battle of the wealthy over space tourism

From now on, Virgin Galactic plans two new test flights, then the start of regular commercial operations for the beginning of 2022. And ultimately aims to carry out 400 flights per year from Spaceport America.

Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries, including Hollywood celebrities for a price of between $200,000 and $250,000.

Even if Richard Branson keeps repeating that according to him, “space belongs to all of us”, the adventure therefore remains within the reach of only the privileged few.

“When I return (from space), I will announce something very exciting to allow more people to become astronauts,” he promised.

Competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent advent has been heralded for years, accelerated tremendously this month: the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is also due to take off on the 20 July, with its own rocket, named New Shepard and developed by its company Blue Origin.

The latter published a table this week extolling its merits compared to those of Virgin Galactic. Jeff Bezos nevertheless wished Richard Branson “a successful flight” on Instagram.

With AFP


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