When you think about "Space", two major companies usually come to mind. Recent "Space talk" has been dominated by NASA expeditions and record-breaking updates of SpaceX news (for good and for bad.)
SpaceX is a popular private space exploration company owned by Elon Musk, that has managed to become the first company to develop a reusable rocket launcher, and the first to use a reused booster in its space exploration launch on 17th June 2021.
Blue Origin, owned by former CEO and owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos is another space organisation that has begun to attract the attention of space enthusiasts and investors worldwide, for its bolstered research and development efforts to lead in this space tourism race. Although the company has been trying to rival Space X's success since its inception in the late 2000s, the pressure is on to reach as many milestone achievements in space as possible
and yes, obviously the male ego is at stake here (as always) which seems to be the biggest incentive🙄...
Today however, we won't be talking about NASA, Space X, or Blue Origin. Instead, we will be talking about Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceflight company, and how they've managed to "beat" SpaceX and Blue Origin in the Space race.
To give you all a brief rundown, these major private companies have all been trying to outdo each other when it comes to space exploration. After all, they are businesses and like all businesses, competition and showmanship come with the territory.
One of the ways these business tycoons have been trying to outdo each other is by becoming the FIRST Billionaire to fly to space. The idea behind this is if you make it to space first, you're ahead of your rivals, you receive more media attention and air time = more interested investors and business partners, thus accelerating your business.
And Richard Branson did just that!
On July 11th, 2021, at around 8:40 am PST, Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity 22 Spacecraft, carrying Branson alongside his fellow pilots (Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci) as well as his 3 employees (Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennett, and Beth Moses) began its flight. The flight itself was a complete success, with Branson posting a video of himself and his crewmates on board the spacecraft during flight;
“To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do!” he says, as he releases his seatbelt to experience the zero gravity force.
The craft flew to an altitude of close to 85 km, before touching down at around 9:40 am PST, the whole mission lasted about an hour in total.
Following the fight, there was a lot of public reaction, most notably from the media and Branson's business rivals. These reactions ranged from praising Branson and his team for their success, to criticising the nature of the mission itself, to of course downplaying and undermining the entire expedition.
Now to understand the criticism surrounding Virgin Galactic and Branson's accomplishment, some notable things should be pointed out.
First of all, Virgin Galactic's launch came ahead of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space flight set for July 20th. Many analysts believe the timing wasn't coincidental, and that Virgin Galactic intentionally scheduled the flight before Blue Origin.
Secondly, the flight wasn't your routine space mission. In fact, the spacecraft used wasn't even your traditional rocket. Virgin Galactic used a "Rocket Plane" for their mission. The takeoff itself was like your standard aeroplane takeoff, instead of traditional liftoff.
Finally, there is a lot of debate and controversy surrounding the total height that the spacecraft reached. You see, the internationally recognised border of space is called the Kármán line,it starts at 100 km above the ocean surface. Once you cross the Kármán line, you officially reach space.
The United States recognises the boundary of space starting from 80 km above sea level, since astronauts usually experience weightlessness above this height and can even view the Earth's curvature clearly, which Branson and his crew did experience.
Even though the VSS Unity reached space according to US standards, it never crossed the Kármán line. This becomes even more notable considering that Bezos' Blue Origin spacecraft, New Shepard, is expected to cross the Kármán line.
These points led to reasonable criticism surrounding Virgin Galactic's expedition, with Blue Origin itself responding with a verbal jab against Virgin Galactic on Twitter stating;
"From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the World's population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognised Kármán line."
If you thought the shade couldn't get any worse, they even included a photo comparing different features of each flight, basically trying to paint the VSS Unity as a glorified aeroplane and even questioning the credibility of the pilots as actual astronauts.
Source: Blue Origin
The old man did NOT come to play.
As far as my own take regarding this debate, you could argue in favour of Virgin Galactic, since both The US military and NASA recognise any flight passing above 80 km as a space flight, and the individuals on board as astronauts. You could also easily side with Blue Origin,and call it a petty marketing ploy by Branson.
Whatever camp you land in, you can't deny that this was a brilliant business move by Branson and Virgin Galactic. This move not only put a lot of eyes on the company, but also increased the company's opportunity to gain more business partners and investors, thus strengthening its position as a contender in this Space race.
What camp are you in ?