Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson has insisted the billionaire space race is not a “competition” — just a day after he announced he would beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to blast off.
“I know that it’s been painted as a race, honestly I don’t think either of us see it that way,” Branson said Friday on Good Morning America.
Virgin Galactic announced Thursday that its next spaceflight test on July 11 will carry Branson himself — leapfrogging Bezos, the world’s richest man, by nine days.
Bezos, who has a net worth of almost $200 billion, announced last month that he and his brother will be on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to space on July 20.
But on Friday, Branson, who has a net worth of over $7.5 billion, sought to downplay the conspicuous timing of the announcements as the two billionaires jostle to become the first industry titan to fly to space.
“We’re both doing something pretty different — the people that go up with us are going up in a spaceship — they launch from a beautiful space port in New Mexico and then Jeff has a different approach,” Branson said.
“So we’re not really in direct competition. I have enormous respect for what he’s doing and I know he has enormous respect for what our wonderful team are doing as well.”
Still, after Virgin Galactic’s announcement, Bezos’ Blue Origin couldn’t keep from taking a shot at its rival.
In a statement, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith emphasized that his company’s rocket travels slightly higher than Virgin Galactic’s.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft passes a few kilometers above the internationally-recognized boundary of space, the so-called Karman Line, which stands at an altitude of 100 kilometers above Earth’s mean sea level.
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft, on the other hand, launches its homeport in New Mexico — dubbed Spaceport America — with the help of a carrier craft, before igniting its rocket and accelerating to three times the speed of sound.
It reaches an altitude of about 80 kilometers, where it spends a few minutes in microgravity and gives passengers a chance to enjoy the view.
“We wish him a great and safe flight, but they’re not flying above the Karman line and it’s a very different experience,” Smith, of Blue Origin, told CNBC.
By US standards, though, both crafts make it to space. The US Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration put the boundary of space lower, at an altitude of about 50 miles.
Shares of Virgin Galactic spiked about 25 percent in afterhours trading after the company announced Branson’s flight, but the stock gave up most of those gains Friday.