Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have emerged as the two leaders in the race to launch a commercial service for suborbital space tourism flights.
But as Blue Origin heads toward its self-service launch after two successful crewed flights in three months, Virgin Galactic has revealed it is delaying its own commercial launch from mid-next year to the last quarter of 2022. Is.
The company, founded by billionaire businessman Richard Branson, is about to begin an “enhancement program” to improve vehicle performance and flight-rate capability of the two vehicles at the center of its flights, the VSS Unity spacecraft and the VMS Eve carrier aircraft.
In an apparent setback for Virgin Galactic, the company said A recent laboratory-based test “marked a potential reduction in the strength margin of some materials used to modify specific joints, and this requires further physical inspection.”
It states that while its vehicles are designed to withstand forces much greater than those experienced during flight, its test flight protocols “have clearly defined strength margins, and further analysis will allow this assessment.” whether any additional work is required to keep them at or above established levels.”
Once all the necessary checks and enhancements are done, Virgin Galactic will be ready to conduct its next test flight – Unity 23 – probably in mid-2022.
Safety is always at the top of the list for such space-based efforts, but Virgin Galactic faces additional scrutiny following the loss of a test pilot in a crash during a flight in 2014.
After making significant improvements to its spacecraft and conducting several test flights over the years, the company delivered Richard Branson to the edge of space in July.
Amazon founder Bezos rode his rocket to the edge of space in Blue Origin’s first crewed launch just a few weeks later, and earlier this week the company blasted William Shatner skyward as the 90-year-old Star Trek icon. Became the oldest person ever. to make such a journey.
Virgin Galactic is already taking bookings for space tourism trips, charging $450,000 per seat, a massive increase over the $250,000 asking price during the first phase of ticket sales.
Blue Origin is allowing people to put their names down for a flight on its rocket, but hasn’t said how much they’ll have to pay for the 10-minute trip of a lifetime.
Critics have accused both Bezos and Branson of wasting money, which they see as a futile effort for the super-rich, although both men claim that their efforts will inspire young engineers and eventually create such technology. who can solve the problems on earth.