SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has booked a ride to suborbital space with Virgin Galactic, according to media reports.
Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, made just such a trip on Sunday (July 11), flying on the first fully crewed spaceflight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane. It was the fourth spaceflight overall for the six-passenger, two-pilot Unity, which is on track to start full commercial operations in early 2022, provided a few additional test flights this fall go well.
Branson told The Sunday Times that Musk has put down a $10,000 deposit to reserve a seat on a future suborbital flight, and a Virgin Galactic spokesperson confirmed the news to The Wall Street Journal. (The most recently stated full ticket price is $250,000.) It’s unclear when Musk’s flight will lift off.
“Elon’s a friend, and maybe I’ll travel on one of his ships one day,” the 70-year-old Branson told The Sunday Times. (SpaceX’s Crew Dragon goes all the way to Earth orbit, and the company’s in-development Starship system is designed to take people and payloads to the moon, Mars and beyond.)
Musk was on hand to witness Branson’s flight, which lifted off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub. In the hours before Sunday’s early-morning flight, in fact, Branson tweeted out a picture of himself standing next to a shoeless Musk.
“Big day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready,” Branson wrote in the tweet.
Another billionaire is set to fly to suborbital space next week. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos will ride on the first crewed spaceflight of his company’s New Shepard vehicle, which is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Also flying with Bezos are his brother Mark, pioneering aviator Wally Funk and the still-mysterious auction winner who paid $28 million for the seat alongside them.
Musk is the world’s richest or second-richest person (behind Bezos), depending on which day that evaluation is made, so he’s certainly wealthy enough to sample various suborbital offerings. (Blue Origin has not disclosed ticket prices, but they’re expected to be in the low six figures.) Given the longstanding rivalry between Musk and Bezos, however, it’d be something of a surprise if we see the SpaceX chief clamber into New Shepard anytime soon.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.