Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has announced his plan to reach space nine days before Amazon boss Jeff Bezos by taking part in a test flight for his company Virgin Galactic.
In a video posted on Twitter, the Virgin Group founder introduced himself as “Astronaut 001” and said he will be “evaluating the customer space flight experience” during the test, beginning on July 11, ahead of Mr Bezos’s maiden voyage on 20 July.
Sir Richard said: “I have always been a dreamer, my mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars.
“This July, our dream will become a reality and we are really excited to share that moment with you all.”
The Unity 22 mission will be the company’s first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin but will be the 22nd flight test for rocket plane VSS Unity.
Taking off from a spaceport in New Mexico, the crew will be evaluating the “cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers” in the commercial cabin.
Sir Richard also said 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”.
The company said it also wants to demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments.
The business tycoon, estimated to be worth around $5.5bn (£3.9bn), also teased potential customers that an “exciting” announcement will be made when he returns from the trip.
“When we return I will announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become astronauts because space does belong to us all, so watch this space,” Sir Richard said.
Virgin Galactic was given the go-ahead to fly paying customers to space after its licence was updated by the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this month.
One of the world’s richest men, Mr Bezos is due to fly to space this month with his rival company Blue Origin.
The Amazon chief executive is set to be joined by his brother, an 82-year-old pilot and an anonymous bidder, who has paid $28m (£19.8m) to be on board the rocket’s first trip on 20 July – the 52nd anniversary of the moon landings.
It is not clear when Blue Origin will be open for commercial business, but ticket sales and price lists are due to be available soon.
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