Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and all the other names that made a difference in private space travel in 2021

Space tourism isn’t exactly a new concept, but 2021 has seen it move from a distant possibility to a real reality several times. While there are multiple factors behind these innovations, there are a few names that each play an important role in their own businesses. First, there’s the space exploration wing of tycoon Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic. Then there’s the company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin. Rounding out the trio, electric car mogul and regular contender for Bezos’ title of the richest man on the planet, Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX.

While the road to these milestones has been marked by several missteps, including government lawsuits, misguided expectations, and a few failed launches, the year has been marked by several new highs that will likely change our perception of space to be. from now on. Here’s a look at how the Big Three in space tourism performed this year.

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Galactic Virgo

Richard Branson’s company may not have made as many headlines as rival companies SpaceX or Blue Origin during the year. However, his company, Virgin Galactic, performed the very first manned suborbital space flight in history.

On May 22, SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico with two astronauts, Frederick Sturckow and David Mackay, on board. The craft reached a speed of Mach 3 and an altitude of 55.45 miles.

This was followed by a second flight, which included Branson and three other Galactic employees, on July 11. Unity reached an altitude of just over 53 miles during this follow-up launch, which completed the company’s “Unit 22” mission. While this was the spacecraft’s 22nd mission, it was only its fourth time in space and was designed specifically as a model for future space tourism flights by the company.

These future flights, many of which are already booked, have already cost $ 250,000. Now, however, the company will charge $ 450,000 per seat for a flight. Branson had said the weightless portion of the flight was a particular goal the company wanted to improve.

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Blue Origin

The same month that Branson traveled to space, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also traveled to space through his company, Blue Origin. Also focused on a (possible) space tourism industry, Bezos traveled with three other passengers, including his brother and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student, the youngest person to have traveled to space (who no had never bought anything from Amazon before). Daemen was actually a last minute replacement. The final seat for the flight had been auctioned and, according to the Blue Origin website, registered more than 7,500 bids from 159 countries. The highest bidder spent $ 28 million on their ticket but couldn’t go – their excuse? They were just too busy.

The Blue Origin spacecraft, New Shephard, launched in West Texas on July 20, traveling 66.5 miles above Earth before returning by parachute. In a press conference after their successful landing, he said his “expectations were high and they had been significantly exceeded.”

The new Shephard would launch again on October 13, with actor William Shatner on board. Famous for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the long-running Star Trek sci-fi franchise, Shatner was equally moved by the experience. “Everyone in the world has to do it. Everyone in the world needs to see… it was amazing, ”he said, before comparing the experience to what death could be like.

On December 11, New Shephard launched for the third time with six passengers on board, the amount the craft is designed to contain.

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Elon Musk’s Tesla is known to change the landscape of the auto industry, and he’s looking to do the same with his own space tourism company, SpaceX. On September 16, the company launched its Inspiration4 mission, the first orbital space flight with only private citizens on board.

Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it eclipsed previous spacewalks in comparison, traveling more than 360 miles above the Earth’s surface – or higher than the International Space Station. The spacecraft remained in orbit for nearly three days before returning to Earth. More precisely, the Atlantic Ocean.

The flight was privately chartered by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who was part of his effort to raise over $ 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, $ 100 million out of his own pocket.

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While 2021 saw innovations for space tourism on several fronts, it was not the first year that the concept was used. This honor goes to the Soyuz MS-20, a Russian spacecraft that transported Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté to the ISS in 2009. The Soyuz returned to this activity in December, launching a 12-day tourist mission to the ISS at From 8. Passengers included Japanese art collector Yusaku Maezawa, his production assistant Yozo Hirano. While it’s not clear how much the latter paid for the trip, CBS reports that NASA has paid more than $ 4 billion for seats on Soyuz since 2006.

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