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Richard Branson, the globe-trotting media mogul and founder of Virgin Galactic, plans to rocket into space Sunday morning on a flight that would make him the first owner of a private space company to launch aboard one of his own spacecraft. If all goes well, he will beat rival Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin, who is set to launch on July 20.

Branson, two company pilots and three Virgin Galactic crewmates are launching from Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on what’s expected to be at least an hour-long flight, reaching altitudes a little over 50 miles above the Earth.

How to watch the Virgin Galactic space launch

  • What: Richard Branson, two pilots and three crewmates launch aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket-powered spaceplane
  • Date: Sunday, July 11, 2021
  • Time: 9 a.m. EDT
  • Location: Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
  • Online stream: Live on CBSN in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device 

Joining Branson aboard the VSS Unity spaceplane are company pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, operations engineer Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla, Virgin’s vice president for government affairs and research operations.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane, rocketing out of the lower atmosphere on a sub-orbital test flight.

Virgin Galactic

Instead of launching from the ground, the VSS Unity is carried aloft by a twin-fuselage carrier jet, the “mothership” VMS Eve, and then released at around 45,000 feet for a rocket-powered climb to the lower reaches of space. After about three minutes of weightlessness, the spaceplane should begin a gliding descent back to Earth for landing at Spaceport America’s 12,000-foot-long runway. 

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos race to space


Leading up to Sunday’s launch, the company completed three successful piloted test flights, the most recent one in May, and received FAA authorization in June to begin flying passengers to space.

An earlier Virgin spaceplane, the VSS Enterprise, suffered a catastrophic failure and crashed during a test flight in 2014, killing the co-pilot and leaving the pilot seriously injured. Virgin Galactic added safeguards to prevent a repeat of that scenario and the system has worked flawlessly ever since.

Sunday’s launch is the culmination of a longtime dream of Branson’s and years of work by the company he founded in 2004.

“I believe that commercial space travel can become a profitable enterprise, but that is not the point,” he wrote in his 2017 autobiography. “If I had merely wanted to make more money, I could have invested in far safer, more reliable sectors. I believe that putting our faith in space travel serves, quite literally, a higher purpose.”

“If I weigh up everything I have ever taken on, this is the biggest task, and if we can pull it off, it will be my proudest achievement.”