Space tourism: Difference between flights of Branson, Bezos and Musk

Last week, British businessman Richard Branson hurtled into space aboard his own rocket and as another billionaire entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, is ‘go for launch’ today, here is a quick look at the difference between the different human spaceflight missions.

Type of vehicle

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic: SpaceShipTwo is a reusable space plane that can fly into suborbital space. The Spaceship was carried aboard the mothership VMS Eve and was released at about 50,000 feet above sea level. The spaceship fired its rocket engines and launched to the edge of space and landed back on the Spaceport runway.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin: New Shepard’s rocket-and-capsule will be launched vertically into the suborbital space. They then separate and the rocket returns to the launchpad, while the capsule falls back to earth with parachutes assisting it make the landing in the West Texas desert.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX: The Dragon capsule will be launched by a reusable Falcon rocket. The spacecraft is also equipped with parachutes to stabilise the spacecraft during reentry and splashdown.

Time duration:

Richard Branson’s trip to space and back lasted about 90 minutes from take-off to landing. The SpaceShip was separated 45 minutes after takeoff and after reaching the required height, those on board experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before descending to the Spaceport in New Mexico.

Blue Origin’s flight will last around 11 minutes after separation. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is not aiming for short trips lasting minutes. Instead, the all-civilian missions are expected to last about three to four days from take-off to landing.

Space or edge of space?

The Kármán line or most widely accepted boundary of space, is located 100km above mean sea level. The US uses 80km as the cutoff point.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight reached a height of 86km while Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin flight is expected to go about 106km high. SpaceX’s Earth Orbit mission promises to take a look at our planet from over 300km up.

Crew

Virgin Galactic: SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers. The three mission specialists who travelled with Branson were: Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic. Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic.

The pilots for the mission were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.

Blue Origin: It can carry six passengers, is entirely automated and does not require a pilot. Bezos will be travelling with his brother Mark Bezos, aviation pioneer Wally Funk and 18-year-old high school graduate Oliver Daemen. He is Blue Origin’s first paying customer but the company has not disclosed his ticket cost.

SpaceX: The Dragon spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers. The first all-civilian rocket trip will include Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who bought the ride, Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant and pediatric bone cancer survivor, Sian Proctor, science communicator and Christopher Sembroski, a U.S Air Force veteran. Reports have mentioned that Elon Musk had expressed interest in joining Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa on his week-long trip around the moon in 2023.

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