2 billionaires plan to ride their spacecraft to edge of space next month

Jeff Bezos, his brother and winning bidder will fly on New Shepard; Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson to fly July 4

This photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows SpaceShipTwo Unity being released from the carrier mothership, VMS Eve for second successful glide flight in New Mexico on Thursday, June 25, 2020. Virgin Galactic is celebrating the second successful glide flight of its spaceship over Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. (Virgin Galactic via AP) (Virgin Galactic, Virgin Galactic)

Private space company founders Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson both plan to achieve brief spaceflights next month on their independently built and tested spacecraft.

Blue Origin founder and billionaire Bezos revealed Monday he and his brother will join the winning bidder on New Shepard’s first crewed flight set for July 20.

This Saturday, the company will unseal the bidding currently underway and host a live auction for that 10-minute spaceflight. The current highest bid is $3.8 million and growing. The livestream will begin at 12:45 p.m. ET.

The winning bid will go toward Blue Origin’s STEM education foundation, Club for the Future.

Anyone looking to pay millions to launch with Blue Origin from West Texas only has two more days to register. The deadline is July 10. So far, more than 6,000 bidders from 143 countries have participated in the auction, according to Blue Origin.

Meanwhile, Parabolic.com reports Branson could fly with his company, Virgin Galactic, aboard the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo some time around the July 4 holiday weekend. However, the flight is contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration approval.

The space plane will take off from Spaceport New Mexico carried by the custom-built jet called WhiteKnightTwo to around 50,000 feet. SpaceShipTwo will then be released, glide and then fire up its rocket engine headed toward the edge of space. According to Virgin Galactic, passengers will experience 3.5Gs before the pilots shut off the engines, allowing those on board to experience several minutes of weightlessness. SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo both land on the runway in New Mexico.

Branson tweeted congratulations to Bezos Monday on his upcoming spaceflight but didn’t mention his own plans.

“Many congratulations to @JeffBezos & his brother Mark on announcing spaceflight plans,” one billionaire wrote to another. “Jeff started building @blueorigin in 2000, we started building @virgingalactic in 2004 & now both are opening up access to Space - how extraordinary! Watch this space…”

For years, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been marketing spaceflight tourism to paying customers eager to earn their space wings.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule and rocket has flown and landed 15 times in Texas but has yet to fly with anyone onboard. After this initial flight, it’s unclear how much a seat could go for in the capsule.

Five people, Virgin Galactic employees, have achieved weightlessness in SpaceShipTwo. According to the company’s website, it will began selling seats again after Branson flies onboard the spaceplane.

“During 2021, we plan to re-open for sales of our spaceflight seats following Richard Branson’s flight,” the website reads.

Years ago, flights with Virgin Galactic went for $250,000 a pop but that price could be a steal compared to the final cost.

“Please note that, although we have not yet announced final pricing, we will be charging more than the $250,000 ticket price offered to those who signed up early. How much would you be willing to pay for your personal journey to space?” the astronaut signup page reads.

However, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are far from the only options for commercial space travel, those are just the suborbital flight options.

SpaceX has now been the only private company to successfully fly NASA, Japanese and European astronauts to the space station. Since Crew Dragon’s first flight with astronauts last May from Kennedy Space Center, 10 ISS residents have arrived via the spacecraft in the last year.

Axiom Space recently purchased four flights to the International Space Station with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon capsule. Those crew members will all be former astronauts or other uber-rich businessmen paying millions for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The first completely commercial orbital flight is slated for September, again with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, but businessman Jared Isaacman is footing the bill, bringing along two Inspiration 4 contest winners and a St. Jude’s physician.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously said he would go to space but hasn’t announced any formal plans to fly on either the Crew Dragon or the company’s Starship, which is still under development.

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