Tag Archives: Richard Branson

Jeff Bezos reaches space, makes it back in one piece

Jeff Bezos victorious high five after safely landing on Earth from his flight into the edge of space. Credit: YouTube capture.

On Tuesday, shortly after 9 a.m. ET, Jeff Bezos launched on an excursion to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a reusable suborbital rocket. Bezos, the world’s richest person, is the second billionaire to make it into space this month, after Richard Branson’s pioneering space tourism flight aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane.

Although Bezos was one-upped by Branson who stole the start of the ‘billionaire space race’, today’s 11-minute flight claims its own fair share of world firsts. The suborbital flight made it past the Kármán Line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space, at nearly 62 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface, whereas Virgin Galactic only reached 57 miles (91 km) altitude. So, technically, some argue, Bezos was the only one to make it into space out of the two.

“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space,” Blue Origin tweeted ahead of Branson’s flight. “New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.”

Joining Jeff was his younger brother, Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, now officially the world’s oldest astronaut, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student who is also the world’s youngest astronaut. The flight took place on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Bezos made it in space. Sort of

Today’s New Shepard crew, from left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Bezos. Credit: CBS News.

Both Bezos and Branson only spent moments in the weightlessness of microgravity. From launch to touch down, the entire trip only took 11 nerve-wracking minutes. That’s a far cry from the conventional picture of outer space travelm with astronauts floating in space as they circle Earth.

New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing space vehicle, reached 2,300 mph (3,700 km/h), or about three times the speed of sound. Once the rocket ran out of fuel, the capsule carrying the crew separated and briefly continued its journey upwards while the booster safely landed on a platform. After a brief couple of minutes of weightlessness, the capsule deployed a plume of parachutes to slowly descend towards the ground. There was no pilot onboard as the Blue Origin capsule is operated by a fully automated flight system.

“Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history,” tweeted Bezos’ space tourism company, Blue Origin. “This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass.” 

Bezos officially stepped down as Amazon CEO this month. This will leave him with ample time to devote to Blue Origin, the private space flight company he founded in 2000 in which he funneled billions of his own money.

The luxurious and spacious interior of the Blue Origin capsule. Each seat has its own dedicated window from which they can observe Earth from space. Credit: Blue Origin.

Thanks to massive advances in space flight, particularly in terms of reusability, Blue Origin aims to become a major player in the private space industry, with its eye on overtaking Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The rivalry between the two companies has extended to a personal level, with the billionaires often ridiculing each other’s efforts. Well, to be fair, it’s mostly Musk who’s doing all the trolling. Musk has previously called Bezos’ Blue Origin a “copycat,” and made fun of the company’s proposed lunar lander Blue Moon comparing it to “blue balls.”

This was New Shepard’s 16th flight and the first to include people, but more are soon to follow. Blue Origin are two more scheduled flights this year alone. Although it’s not clear how much Blue Origin plans to charge for a seat, however, we do know that Virgin Galactic aims to sell tickets for around $250,000 a pop. Mush himself has reportedly put down a $10,000 deposit for a Virgin flight, although everyone is excited about the day he will take off on one of his SpaceX rockets.

Virgin Galactic tourist space rocket passes first test

Virgin Galactic’s tourism rose 50 miles (81 km) above the Earth, reaching the limits of outer space and inching closer to founder Richard Branson’s desire to send tourists into outer space. Sir Richard is in a race with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send the first fee-paying passengers into space.

“Today, as I stood among this truly remarkable group of people, all of us with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled,” Branson wrote in a blog post. “How on earth do I describe the feeling? Joy? Definitely! Relief? Emphatically! Exhilaration? Absolutely! But because I have a tendency to keep pushing forward – eager and impatient anticipation for everything yet to come.”

Image credits: Virgin Galactic.

Space tourism could become in a reality as early as 2020. The firm’s SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship reached a height of over 80 km, which is considered to be the edge of space by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies — although varying heights are considered.

If everything goes according to plan, Virgin’s first tourists will take flight in around 18 months, Branson says. He added that there will be more test flights and if all goes well, he will be the first to take a ride before the public gets its chance.

“I believe that sometime in the second half of next year that we will start being able to put regular people up into space,” Branson said, describing Thursday as one of the best days of his life.

The two pilots are Mark “Forger” Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick “CJ” Sturckow. They will be awarded commercial astronaut wings, Federal Aviation Administration official Bailey Edwards said.

A jet carrying Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 in the Mojave desert in California. Image credits: Virgin Galactic.

Already on this test, more than 600 people have committed to pay about $250,000 for rides that will take some 90 minutes. However, these several minutes will bring a unique sensation of weightlessness as well as a view of the beautiful Earth from far above.

However, the endeavor isn’t only a commercial one — the spaceship will also be used for research. Already, on this test, the rocket carried  a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger, as well as four research experiments for NASA.

Virgin isn’t alone in the commercial space race. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, is planning crewed missions for early next year, and Jeff Bezos announced that Blue Origin plans to send its first crew to space in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Hyperloop One joins ‘Virgin’ family following Richard Branson investment

The revolutionary hyperloop technology that many experts view as the future of transportation just got some serious endorsement. Famed serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced that he’s made a ‘significant’ investment in Hyperloop One, a startup which so far has the most advanced hyperloop technology. The company has now changed its name into ‘Virgin Hyperloop One’.

A hyperloop is basically a pad whizzing through a pneumatic tube at tremendous velocity. The pod magnetically levitates inside the tube in near-vacuum, without any air resistance. This innovation has the potential to revolutionize how people and cargo move all around the world.  Once completed a full hyperloop network ought to travel at a 700mph. There are no congestion issues and people don’t need to go through the hassle of airport security. Zipping from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take only 30 minutes, compared to a six-hour drive or an all-day train ride.

hyperloop

Credit: Hyperloop One.

The concept was first proposed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, a few years back. However, instead of working on it himself, the entrepreneur casually left the whole thing out in the open for others to materialize. It didn’t take too long for other entrepreneurs to seriously get to work based on Musk’s 57-page whitepaper on the Hyperloop concept. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) was the first startup that responded to the call but Hyperloop One, based in Los Angeles, has proven to be the front-runner so far.

In May 2017, they did their first propulsion test and already have a signed deal with the transport authorities of Dubai where they to install the first real hyperloop system. The plan is to have a hyperloop up and running by 2019-2020; that project will make Dubai to Abu Dhabi just a 12-minute ride. In July 2017, Virgin Hyperloop One fired a magnetically levitating test sled, then the aluminum and carbon fiber Hyperloop One pod at 310 km/h (192 mph) and over a distance of 436 m (0.27 miles).

Now, with Richard Branson involved, Virgin Hyperloop One should accelerate its development.

“We have a new ally in our mission to reinvent transportation,” Hyperloop One’s co-founders said in a statement. “The Virgin Group and Hyperloop One will be entering into a global strategic partnership focused on passenger and mixed-use cargo service.”

Richard Branson is no stranger to risky investments. The 67-year-old British entrepreneur founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 with the stated goal of making space tourism accessible to the masses. Last week, at the 2017 Nordic Business Forum (NBF) held in Helsinki, Finland, Branson said he hopes to see SpaceShipTwo beyond the atmosphere for the first time before year’s end.

Virgin Galactic wants to fly you from L.A. to Tokyo in one hour, through space

Image: Spaceport Berlin

We’ve written a lot about Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic. After working on the first commercial spaceport and helping NASA fly into orbit, now, they want to revolutionize commercial air flights. Namely, they want to fly people from L.A. to Tokyo in no more than one hour, through space.

The shuttle concept would be pretty similar to the company’s SpaceShipTwo. A large plane lifts the shuttle, raises it a few km above ground level, then “drops it”; the shuttle’s hybrid rocket engine ignites, heading it to space and whatever the destination may be. The system would ensure incredibly low durations for the flights – L.A. to Tokyo in 1 hour, and the U.K. to Australia in 2 hours. Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides declared:

“You can imagine a SpaceShipThree or a SpaceShipFour going outside the atmosphere, then coming back down outside an urban area and landing,” Whitesides said. “We don’t have to accept the status quo. We can imagine a vehicle using liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen to get us across the Pacific in an hour. You could do that.”

virgin galactic

SpaceShipTwo. Image via Virgin.

This makes a lot of sense when we consider Virgin’s recent plans and developments. Virgin’s edgy and visionary leader, Charles Branson has always planned things on a grand scale. Ten years ago, he attempted to buy an already declining Concorde, but his bid was rejected. In 2012, the company developed LauncherOne, an orbital launch vehicle which can launch “smallsat” payloads of 100 kilograms (220 lb) into Earth orbit. Furthermore, Branson has advocated, time and time again, a supersonic commercial airline. Now, it seems he will finally be able to accomplish his dream especially as Virgin is working with the European Space Agency (the European “equivalent” of NASA) for this project.

Of course, the technical and scientific realization would be immense – but will this actually work, commercially? Will this idea actually make money, or is it just a wild (space) goose chase?

“Credible market studies have not been done, or at least published,” Derek Webber, executive director of Spaceport Associates, wrote in a 2008 paper exploring the idea. “The optimum technical design has not been established. The ground infrastructure is not in place.”

“Price levels are uncertain,” he continued. “It is not even clear whether such flights are best characterized as tourism or as transportation; whether the passengers would be primarily tourists or business persons on urgent trips.”

Branson at last night’s event. Image: Vice.

The technology is still in its infancy and we’re still a long way from discussing commercial success, but this is clearly more than just a billionaire’s dream; and if I had to put money on someone to develop commercial air flights through space, that man would definitely be Richard Branson. Oh, I forgot to mention that one of the key partners in this enterprise will be Grey Goose – one of the world’s most famous Vodka Companies. Who else would announce his ambitious plans alongside a vodka company?

“We are delighted that GREY GOOSE is joining us as a partner on our incredible journey. This evening of disruptive and rich debate about the future of travel, a wonderful celebration of human achievement, is at the heart of the Virgin Galactic GREY GOOSE partnership. We share a passionate pursuit of the extraordinary which we look forward to celebrating together as the world’s first commercial spaceline builds and grow,” says Branson on Virgin’s website.

Boeing enters the space tourism market

Commercial space flight is starting to promise to become a very lucrative market since an ever growing interested is harnessed by the big corporations of the world. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in cooperation with Scaled Composites (Mojave, CA), announced their sincere intentions of entering the commercial space travel market, after recently the giant Boeing also announced its plans to carry civilians in space.

Apparently, the aerospace manufacturer has reached an agreement with Space Adventures for the marketing and manufacturing of low-orbit space travel, which could see wealthy, yet ordinary civilians travel into space, as well as guarantee regular transportation for the International Space Station or other sub orbital projects, aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100).

The CST-100 could carry seven people and fly in low-Earth orbit as soon as 2015, Boeing said. The potential customers for excess seating capacity include private individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. federal agencies other than NASA.

“By combining our talents, we can better offer safe, affordable transportation to commercial spaceflight customers,” explained Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division. “To date, all commercial flights for private spaceflight participants to the ISS have been contracted by Space Adventures. If NASA and the international partners continue to accommodate commercial spaceflight participants on ISS, this agreement will be in concert with the NASA administrator’s stated intent to promote space commerce in low Earth orbit.”

This could prove to be the first real step in providing the possibility for commercial space travel, even though in the beginning (first 10-20 years) this will solely be a player’s market, with fare tickets ranging in the the tens of millions. The first space tourist was Dennis A. Tito, a California multimillionaire, who shelved $20 million for a ride and spent eight days in the International Space Station with two cosmonauts in 2001. Guy Laliberte, founder of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, paid more than $35 million to travel into space last year on a Russian spaceship from Kazakhstan.

“We are excited about the potential to offer flights on Boeing’s spacecraft,” emphasized Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. “With our customer experience and Boeing’s heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space, but also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth.”

What’s interesting is that Boeing’s new jump into the commercial space flight market comes a few months after President Obama‘s decision to retire the Space Shuttle program and shelve lunar missions for the next couple of years, until N.A.S.A. will get completely restructured. Until then N.A.S.A. will be completely dependent on commercial space taxis for ISS cargo transpiration and on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut missions. The Russian space agency charges the US $51 million per seat for a ride on a Soyuz, a price tag that is said to reach $56 million by 2013.

UPDATE: Three years since this post was published, a lot has changed in the private space sector. For one, SpaceX, currently the most successful private aerospace enterprise has successfully deployed its own spacecraft to the International Space Station, and the aforementioned Dennis Tito is actually planning one of the most dashing plans yet – a manned mission to mars by 2018.  The space shuttle is long dead and gone, alas.