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Richard Branson speaking in Las Vegas in June 2021. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

Virgin Galactic announced Thursday plans to launch its billionaire founder Richard Branson into space on July 11.

Why it matters: The date is nine days before Jeff Bezos, founder of Virgin Galactic competitor Blue Origin, is set to take off for space.

  • Branson will journey to space in Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spacecraft along with two pilots and three other mission specialists as part of the company's fourth crewed mission.

What they're saying: "After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good," Branson said in a press release Thursday.

  • "It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality," he added.

The big picture: Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are attempting to open suborbital space flights to laypeople.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration gave Virgin Galactic approval to carry passengers on future spaceflights in late June.
  • VSS Unity is a spaceplane that uses a mothership to carry it high in the atmosphere where it is dropped and rockets into the edge of space for a few minutes before gliding back to Earth for a runway landing.

Go deeper: Another billionaire space battle is brewing

Go deeper

William Shatner, 90, going to space on next Blue Origin flight

William Shatner. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Actor William Shatner will be launched to space in the upcoming Blue Origin tourist spaceflight, the company announced on Monday.

Why it matters: The 90-year-old actor, best known for playing Captain Kirk in the television series "Star Trek," will become the oldest person to fly to space.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 5, 2021 - Science

Blue Origin employees accuse company of mishandling harassment allegations

A Blue Origin booster coming in for a landing in 2019. Photo: Blue Origin

A letter signed by 21 current and former employees of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin accuses the company of mishandling harassment allegations and raises questions about its culture.

The big picture: Blue Origin is trying to compete with SpaceX and others for lucrative government contracts but it's facing employee attrition rates as high as 20%, according to a report from CNBC.

Oct 5, 2021 - Podcasts
How It Happened

The Next Astronauts Part V: The Launch

In part five of How it Happened: The Next Astronauts, Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer follows the Inspiration4 crew to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to cover their launch and catches up with each of them after their return.

  • Kramer takes listeners to the press center at the Kennedy Space Center and inside of a pre-launch press conference with the four civilian astronauts the day before launch.
  • Kramer reports on the launch from on the ground and analyzes the livestream hosted by SpaceX, including the abrupt termination of real-time access to the crew once they reached orbit.
  • She tracks the crew during their three days in orbit, their high-risk descent back through the Earth's atmosphere, and what the safety and success of the mission means for the entire industry going forward.

Subscribe to How It Happened wherever you listen to podcasts.

  • For more of Miriam Kramer's space reporting, subscribe to Axios Space.

Credits: The Next Astronauts is reported and produced by Miriam Kramer, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alice Wilder. Dan Bobkoff is Executive Producer. Mixing, sound design, and music supervision by Alex Sugiura. Theme music and original score by Michael Hanf. Fact-checking and research by Jacob Knutson. Alison Snyder is a managing editor at Axios and Sara Kehaulani Goo is executive editor. Special thanks to Axios co-founders Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz.

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