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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

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jul 1, 2021 - Science

Blue Origin picks its fourth passenger for first crewed flight

A seat within Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule. Photo: Blue Origin

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has invited Wally Funk — one of the women aviators who passed the Mercury astronaut tests in the 1960s — to join him and two others on the company's first crewed trip to the edge of space.

Why it matters: Funk's turn as an astronaut is years in the making, after the Mercury 13 — a group of women who mastered the same tests as NASA astronauts in the 1960s as part of a private initiative — were passed over by NASA.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jun 30, 2021 - Science

Virgin Orbit successfully launches a clutch of satellites to orbit

A Virgin Orbit flight test in May 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson

Virgin Orbit launched seven satellites from three different customers to space on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Virgin Orbit is entering an increasingly crowded market of launchers hoping to take advantage of the growing demand by nations and other companies to launch small satellites to orbit in the coming years.

Mike Allen, author of AM
18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

America's "Friendscape" crisis

New research shows Americans have fewer friends than in the past, and are less likely to have a best friend.

  • Why it matters: At a time of excruciating mental and societal stress, this is another sign we're breaking apart. And the friendship drought could get worse with more people working remotely or hybrid-ly.

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