Virgin Galactic's successful glide test of its VSS Unity plane on Jan. 11 has been another step forward for the company in developing space tourism against competitor companies Blue Origin and SpaceX.
According to tempo.co, there are three companies currently competing to conduct commercial space exploration, namely Richard Branson-owned Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, with the first two mainly focused on taking tourists to space.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004. It later became known for its first SpaceShipTwo, which tragically crashed during a test flight in 2014, killing one pilot.
The company moved on to create a reusable craft, called VSS Unity, which has successfully completed its seventh glide test last week when it landed in Mojave Desert in California, United States.
"VSS Unity was released from mothership VMS Eve and dropped from 50,000 feet, reaching speed of Mach 0.9. That is around the maximum airspeed we can achieve before the rocket motor ignites," Branson wrote in a blog post on the Virgin website.
More than 700 wealthy customers so far have booked spots worth US$250,000 per seat on one of the Virgin space journeys, with commercial flights planned for later this year. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Katy Perry are among those waiting for the journey to space.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, is owned by world's wealthiest man and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Established in 2000, the company upholds a motto of Gradatim Ferociter, which is Latin for "Step by step, ferociously." The company is currently developing a rocket-capsule combo that would take people and payloads on trips to suborbital space.
In December, Blue Origin successfully launched an uncrewed capsule on a New Shepard 2.0 carrier rocket, with the test flight taking place at the company's Corn Ranch spaceport in western Texas, US.
Like Musk, Bezos also wants to reuse rockets to drive down the cost of space travel. For the time being, however, Blue Origin is mostly interested in conducting suborbital flights for tourists.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk established SpaceX in 2002 and the company has been taking trips to space to deliver satellites and make resupply missions to the International Space Station for years.
SpaceX aims to bring down the cost of spaceflight by reusing rockets, since in the past, rockets have been discarded after just one launch.
In February last year, the company said it would fly two space tourists to the Moon sometime in 2018, which would make it its first mission with humans on board. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to travel to Mars.