Richard Branson hours away from lift-off to reignite ‘billionaires’ space race’

Richard Branson's trip to space this Sunday will be the accumulation of 16 years work as he attempts to win the billionaire space race against Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

In an attempt to secure his victory in the race, Branson, 70, will set take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico to the edge of space on Sunday morning.

The battle is on for the commercialisation of trips to the edge of space, which celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga have already signed up for.

Branson said: "It is time to turn my dream into a reality.

“As a child I wanted to go to space. When that did not look likely for my generation I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could make it happen.”

The journey will take Branson between 55 to 65 miles up into the air and he will reach the edge of space in what he hopes will become a commercial adventure for thrill seekers.

At 50,000ft altitude the plane will release VSS Unity, a winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.

The VSS Unity will then propel at three-and-a-half times the speed of sound into the final leg of the journey and soar at around 60 miles above the Earth's surface.

The team involved in the mission consists of Branson, who is Astronaut 001, chief astronaut Beth Moses (Astronaut 002), lead operations engineer Colin Bennett (Astronaut 003) and Virgin Galactic vice-president Sirisha Bandla (Astronaut 004).

The Virgin tycoon has invested 16 years and more than £1billion in order to make the trip to the edge of space, paving the way for the potentially lucrative space tourism industry.

Getting to this stage has not been a smooth ride, setbacks included a catastrophic crash in the Mojave Desert which killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Over 700 people have signed up for the exclusive £180,000 trips, including familiar names Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.

Dozens of "founder astronauts" will be watching Sunday's launch after they bought tickets to fly in the early years of the firm being founded.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos, 57, will set off on his own journey to edge of space from Texas nine days after Branson in the close-run space race.

Bezos will be joined by his brother Mark, along with an 82-year-old female aviation pioneer who has waited 60 years for a space trip and the winner of a £20million charity auction.

In terms of the competition between the two, Branson's flight will be longer but Bezos will fly higher.

Even though the Vir­­­gin boss is laun­ching first, Bezos could still claim the victory.

Branson's VSS Unity doesn’t quite reach the 62-mile altitude most often con­sidered the edge of outer space, while Bezos’s rocket passes comfortably above that height.

A live stream of the launch will be available on www.virgingalactic.com.

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