Space tourism: the differences between Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX flights

(CNN Spanish) – The race for space tourism has begun.

First, British businessman and billionaire Richard Branson soared through the skies in a supersonic space plane developed by his company, Virgin Galactic, and a few days later, Jeff Bezos boarded the New Shepard spacecraft for a first pleasure trip that took him to the space and back to his company Blue Origin.

For his part, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, is planning its own space launch scheduled for late 2021. The difference is that, as of yet, Musk has not announced his intentions to join the Inspiration4 crew.

Although Branson traveled to space a couple of days before Bezos, the Brit told CNN “I honestly don’t see this as a space race,” despite the proximity between missions. In fact, Virgin Galactic congratulated on Twitter to Blue Origin after its successful flight and indicated that “together we will open [el] space for good “, this after Blue Origin hinted that the Virgin Galactic flight was not” space “.

Here we explain the details of each of the missions to space promoted by this trio of billionaires, who took the first steps to make the next great vacation destination out of this world.

Watch Jeff Bezos and his crew float in space 1:30

Orbital space vs. suborbital space

One of the key differences between the Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Space X missions is that the first two missions were flights to suborbital space, where travelers were briefly exposed to weightlessness and were able to see the sights of space during a flight. at the edge of the atmosphere, approximately 60 miles above Earth.

Both the flights manned by Branson and Bezos were brief, as they flew in and out on the same day.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo soared into the skies at 8:30 a.m. local time on July 11 about 15,240 meters in the air. On board, passengers experienced up to three G’s of force from the burst of extreme acceleration and watched the blue sky fade into the star-speckled darkness of outer space.

At the top of the flight path, more than 80 kilometers high, the vehicle was suspended in weightlessness for a few minutes, allowing passengers to enjoy panoramic views of Earth and space as the SpaceShipTwo rotated on its belly. The Virgin Galactic flight reached a maximum altitude of 86 kilometers above Earth.

For his part, on July 20 Jeff Bezos along with 3 other crew members boarded the New Shepard capsule, at the Blue Origin launch site, just before the rocket started its engines at 8:12 a.m. that the vehicle exceeded the speed of sound and rose to more than 105 kilometers. At the highest point of the flight path, the passengers were weightless for about three minutes and were allowed to lift off their seats to float and take in panoramic views of Earth and the cosmos.

Both the Virgin Galactic flight and the Blue Origin flight reached the limit of outer space, according to the United States Government. These suborbital flights require much less power and speed. That means less time is required for the rocket to burn out, lower temperatures burning the exterior of the spacecraft, less force and compression to tear the spacecraft, and generally less chance of something going very wrong.

For its part, the SpaceX mission – scheduled for September this year – will reach orbital space, a journey that involves high-speed takeoffs that break gravity and longer durations. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will reach an altitude of 540 kilometers and will orbit Earth every 90 minutes during the journey that will last approximately 3 days.

Orbital rockets need to pack up enough power to reach at least 2,759 km / h (17,000 miles per hour), which is known as orbital velocity, essentially giving a spacecraft enough energy to continue rotating around Earth instead of being immediately dragged down by gravity.

The space tourism race

Who are the crew

Virgin galactic: Branson occupied one of the six available seats within the Unity 22 spacecraft in order to evaluate the flight experience to enhance the journey for future customers. The crew was joined by Beth Moses, lead instructor; Colin Bennet, Virgin Galactic Chief Operating Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic Vice President of Government Affairs and Investigative Operations; and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, with Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders, cheers with crew members after flying into space aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, a journey he described as the “experience of a lifetime.” , and which he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism. (Credit: PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images)

Blue Origin: Jeff Bezos and his brother, Mark Bezos, occupied two of the six available seats inside the New Shepard ship. They were joined on the trip by Wally Funk, 82, a member of the “Mercury 13” program who trained to be an astronaut, but was unable to go into space; as well as Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old who became the youngest person to travel to space.

Daemen was Blue Origin’s first paid customer, and his father, an investor, bought his ticket. This young Dutchman took the place of the mysterious bidder who offered the sum of US $ 28 million for an 11-minute trip to the edge of space with Jeff Bezos and who had to postpone his trip to space due to “scheduling conflicts.”

Oliver Daemen, Mark Bezos, Jeff Bezos and Wally Funk made the first human space flight of the Blue Origin company. (Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images) (Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Inspiration4: The crew will be made up of billionaire Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, who will donate three of the seats within the Dragon Crew to members who were selected “to represent the pillars of the mission: leadership, hope, generosity and progress.” , according to SpaceX.

Joining the trip is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee. Arceneaux will become the youngest American to visit space and the first person with a prosthesis to travel to space. There is also Dr. Sian Proctor, professor of geosciences and specialist in scientific communication; and Christopher Sembroski, a counselor at the Space Camp educational camp and a former US Air Force military man.

The Dragon ship has seating for up to seven passengers, so more people could join the trip. For now, it is not known if Musk will be part of the Inspiration4 mission.

Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman and Dr. Sian Proctor prepare for their flight into space scheduled for September 2021. Credit: Inspiration4 / John Kraus

Francesca Street and Jackie Wattles contributed to this report.

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