Billionaire space race: Richard Branson aiming for July 11 launch date, 9 days ahead of Jeff Bezos

Virgin Galactic announces new launch date, says billionaire Richard Branson will be aboard

Virgin Galactic announced Thursday that the launch window for its first fully crewed spaceflight opens July 11, and founder Richard Branson will be onboard. 

If all goes according to plan and the VSS Unity launches on July 11, then Branson will be the first billionaire in space, nine days ahead of Jeff Bezos's first planned flight aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard space ship. 

"I truly believe that space belongs to all of us," Branson wrote Thursday. "After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good."

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Branson hinted that he was trying to get to space soon on Wednesday after Virgin Galactic's sister company, Virgin Orbit, launched seven satellites.

"All I can say is when the engineers tell me that I can go to space, I’m ready, fit and healthy to go," Branson told the Associated Press after Virgin Orbit's successful launch. "So we’ll see."

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Two pilots and three other mission specialists will be on board with Branson, who will be "testing the private astronaut experience," the company said Thursday. 

One of the objectives of the mission is to evaluate the "commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel," according to Virgin Galactic.

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Bezos announced earlier this month that he, his brother Mark, and a $28 million auction winner would take off July 20 on New Shepard's first crewed suborbital flight, which will reach an altitude of more than 340,000 feet. 

"Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space," Bezos wrote in an Instagram caption announcing the flight on June 7. "On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend."

Female aerospace pioneer Wally Funk will also be onboard New Shepard next month, which will make her the oldest person ever in space at 82 years old, Blue Origin announced Thursday. 

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Virgin Galactic is planning two more test flights later this year before it plans to open for business to paying astronauts in 2022. 

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