All-Trip for Branson and Bezos: Is Space Tourism Taking Off?

The billionaires have delivered a media-effective test of strength for the first space flight in their own flying object. But there is more to it: space mass tourism – and a lot of money.

The video, who must have annoyed multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, doesn’t skimp on drama. A vaguely recognizable person walks along a gangway, accompanied by reflections of light and underlaid by mysterious music. “Astronaut 001 – Richard Branson”, the head of the private space company Virgin Galactic then introduces himself and dives into the spotlight.

Branson announces his first trip into space with his own spaceship for July 11th – a coup at the expense of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who wants to take off into space nine days later with its own rocket. It’s not just about the personal race between two super-rich, but also about which company has the most promising position in the business of mass tourism in space.

The British billionaire Branson with Virgin Galactic was actually not the first name to come up with this topic. But after numerous setbacks – the most severe in 2014, when his “SpaceShipTwo” crashed on a test flight over California and a pilot was killed in the process – his spacecraft “VSS Unity” completed a successful manned space test flight in May.

(Foto: Blue Origin)

It was launched on board a carrier aircraft from the commercial spaceport Spaceport America in the US state of New Mexico. The parent aircraft then dropped off the “VSS Unity” at an altitude of just under 14 kilometers. The spaceship then accelerated on its own and reached an altitude of 89.2 kilometers. A few weeks later, Virgin Galactic received FAA permission to take tourists into space.

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The International Aviation Association (FAI) and many other experts see 100 kilometers above the earth as the limit to space. However, there is no binding international regulation. For example, soldiers in the US Air Force received the designation astronaut, even though they had only flown to an altitude of 50 miles (80.5 kilometers).

But it seemed furthest initially to have been Jeff Bezos. He called his rocket “New Shepard” – based on Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961. His short trip on July 20 is also scheduled to be exactly 52 years after the first moon landing – and now for nine days after Branson’s flight. “I’ve dreamed of going into space since I was five,” says 57-year-old Bezos.

To make this dream come true, Bezos founded Blue Origin around 20 years ago. In the west of Texas, the company has developed and tested the “New Shepard” rocket over the past few years. Six passengers find space in their capsule, each has a seat at one of the “largest windows in space”. Blue Origin tested “New Shepard” for the last time in mid-April. Both the rocket and the capsule that had been separated from it reached a height of over 100 kilometers before returning to Earth.

The “New Shepard” has never flown with people in the capsule. That should change now – and with owner Bezos on board. His brother Mark and an 82-year-old ex-pilot are also there, and another seat was auctioned for $ 28 million (23.6 million euros). The whole excursion should only take eleven minutes and reach an altitude of over 100 kilometers. For comparison: the International Space Station ISS flies around 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

(Foto: Virgin Galactic)

Branson and Bezos wouldn’t be the first tourists in space: several other companies and space agencies have already taken travelers into space. In 2001, the US entrepreneur Dennis Tito spent a week on the International Space Station and paid around $ 20 million for it; he is considered the first space tourist. Around half a dozen more ISS tourists followed.

But despite high hopes and expectations, the All-Excursions have not really gained momentum so far. The development and implementation of a space mission are associated with great safety risks and are extremely expensive, so that until now they have only appeared to be reserved for trained professionals and – in top shape – the super-rich.

Not only Branson and Bezos want to change that, but also Tesla boss Elon Musk, who with his company SpaceX announced in 2018 that he would fly tourists around the moon. Now it should be so far in 2023, including the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on board. A flight into space booked by US billionaire Jared Isaacman at SpaceX is planned for this year.

And for the coming year, the US company Axiom Space, together with SpaceX and the US space agency Nasa, has planned a tourist space flight to the ISS. Four men from the United States, Canada and Israel are said to be on board – according to media reports, around $ 55 million per ticket.

(Foto: Virgin Galactic)

According to experts, successful test flights by Branson and Bezos could be the long-awaited starting signal that gets the market going. Even mass tourism might not be long in coming, because the flights from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic would be short trips, which at an estimated 250,000 dollars would be significantly cheaper than the longer flights around the moon or to the ISS.

In any case, Branson apparently wants to give details soon. In the video that Bezos duped, he says, “When we return, I’ll be announcing something very exciting to give more people the chance to become astronauts.” dpa

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