How to watch Richard Branson's space flight and what time is the Virgin Galactic launch?

If successful, the businessman will beat rival Jeff Bezos in the billionaire race

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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is set to launch into space on Sunday in a rocket-powered space plane built by his company.

A livestream of the launch will be shown on Virgin Galactic’s website and social media channels.

If successful, the British businessman, 70, will beat rival Jeff Bezos in the billionaire space race.

“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum told me never to give up and to reach for the stars. This July, our dreams will be becoming a reality,” he said earlier this month when his participation was announced.

The Unity 22 mission, taking off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, is the first fully crewed flight by Virgin Galactic and includes three other passengers and two pilots.

Carrier jet VMS Eve, named after Mr Branson’s mother, will release the VSS Unity space plane at an altitude of about 15,240m, which will then climb to the edge of space.

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How to watch

Timings of the flight’s key milestones have not yet been released but the livestream will begin at 6.30pm, Gulf Standard Time, on July 11.

The launch will be broadcast live on Virgin Galactic’s official website and social media channels.

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The crew will experience about four minutes of weightlessness when the plane flies at an apex of approximately 89 kilometres above the New Mexico desert.

This week, rival space tourism company Blue Origin argued that the Karman line – the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space – begins at 100km above sea level.

Mr Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, announced in June that he would fly on the New Shephard to space on July 20.

“From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Karman line, so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin said on Twitter yesterday.

“For 96 per cent of the world’s population, space begins 100km up at the internationally recognised Karman line.

“Only 4 per cent of the world recognises a lower limit of 80km as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.”

According to Nasa and the US Federal Aviation Administration, however, outer space begins at 80km above sea level.

Mr Branson told Reuters: “It wasn’t a race”.

"If it's a race, it's a race to produce wonderful spaceships that can make many more people be able to access space. And I think that's both of our aims,” he said.

Why is Richard Branson going to space?

This will be Virgin Galactic’s 22nd test flight and will carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists.

Apart from achieving his lifelong goal of going to space, Mr Branson will test the private astronaut experience during the flight.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry,” he said.

“As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

More than 600 passenger tickets priced at $250,000 (Dh918,300) have been sold so far, according to Virgin Galactic.

Blue Origin auctioned off a ticket on New Shepard’s first passenger flight for $28 million last month.

Among those on board will be Mr Bezos, Wally Funk – one of the “Mercury 13” group of US women pilots who in the 1960s were qualified to be astronaut candidates but never got the opportunity – Mr Bezos’s brother Mark and the auction winner.


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Updated: July 11, 2021, 11:46 AM
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