Billionaire race for the stars: Richard Branson to beat Bezos to space

Who will get to space first? (Getty/Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson looks likely to go to space aboard a Virgin Galactic ship as early as next month.

That comes from a report on Parabolic Arc suggesting plans are afoot at Virgin Galactic to get the billionaire into orbit over the July 4 holiday weekend in the US.

In an unbelievable co-incidence, this news reaches us just days after it was announced that Jeff Bezos will fly to space on July 20.

Bezos, another billionaire who happens to own his own private space company, will join his brother and the winner of an auction aboard a flight to low-Earth orbit on Blue Origin’s New Shephard spaceship.

But he’ll be beaten to the punch by Branson aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo if these plans are true.

‘Before it can fly Branson, Virgin Galactic must obtain a commercial reusable spacecraft operator’s license from the FAA,’ Parabolic Arc reports. ‘The license would allow Virgin Galactic to fly its billionaire founder as the company’s first spaceflight participant.’

Virgin Galactic aims to offer paying customers a trip into space – in snazzy blue astronaut clothes too (Credits: Virgin Galactic)

Interestingly, an anonymous source spoke to GeekWire to downplay the rumour Branson is hoping to beat Bezos to the stars.

‘Claims about sending Branson into space during the July 4 weekend would be false information, based on the existing policies for analyzing test data and assessing flight safety,’ the site reported.

But Branson himself doesn’t seem to mind stoking the fires of a rivalry.

On his Twitter account, the Virgin founder congratulated Bezos after his announcement but told followers to ‘watch this space’.

In May, Virgin Galactic achieved a milestone when it made its first rocket-powered flight to the edge of space in a manned shuttle.

After taking off from New Mexico, VSS Unity ignited its rocket to hurtle the ship and two pilots toward space. 

A live feed by NASASpaceFlight.com showed the ship accelerating upward and confirmed a landing later via radar.

Virgin Galactic announced that its VSS Unity shuttle achieved a speed equal to three times the speed of sound and an altitude of just over 55 miles (89 kilometres) above sea level before making its gliding return through the atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic rocket ship flies to fringe of space (AP)

Virgin Galactic rocket ship flies to fringe of space (AP)

Of course, there’s a third player in this space race in the form of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

SpaceX has already confirmed it will launch Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa in 2023. But, unlike Branson and Bezos, who will just be skirting around the planet in low-Earth orbit, Maezawa and his fellow passengers will be travelling out and round the moon.

MORE : Billionaire Branson unveils the latest Virgin Galactic spacecraft

MORE : Virgin Galactic rocket flies to edge of space in test run for tourists

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