Fancy a free flight to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spaceplane?
Shortly after returning to Earth following a ride on Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed mission on Sunday, July 11, company founder Richard Branson announced it was giving away two free seats aboard the spaceplane for an experience that will ordinarily cost $250,000.
You can enter the sweepstake for free, though a donation to the Space for Humanity charity — a nonprofit seeking to make space more accessible — will give you more chances to win. For example, a $10 donation gets you 100 entries in the sweepstake, while a $25 donation gets you 250 entries. The sweepstake will close on September 1, with the winner announced on September 29.
Launched in partnership with fundraising platform Omaze, the prize will also include a private tour given by Branson of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America base in New Mexico, where Sunday’s mission started and finished.
The once-in-a-lifetime flight, which is set to become part of Virgin Galactic’s commercial space tourism service, will see passengers travel aboard the VSS Unity spaceplane as it’s carried to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by VMS Eve, the mothership aircraft. After Eve releases Unity, the spaceplane will fire up its rocket engine and fly to an altitude of around 250,000 feet, around seven times higher than a commercial passenger jet. There, the passengers will be able to enjoy amazing views of Earth and several minutes of weightlessness before returning to Spaceport America for a runway landing.
Virgin Galactic said the winner and a friend will be able to take the flight in “early 2022.”
“I recently flew aboard a Virgin Galactic space flight alongside an incredible crew and had the most remarkable experience seeing Earth from above, and I’m thrilled to pass that opportunity on to you now,” Branson said in a video announcing the free flights, adding, “Now it’s your turn to become an astronaut.”
Both Branson’s flight and the sweepstake mark the start of what is likely to be an aggressive marketing campaign as Virgin Galactic sets about trying to attract high-paying customers to its space tourism service.
Its main competitor at launch will be Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin recently took a swipe at Virgin Galactic, claiming that its Unity spaceplane fails to reach the edge of space, while its own New Shepard rocket is capable of reaching the Kármán line 62 miles up, which many regard as the starting point of space. Either way, passengers who fly with either company will enjoy a similar experience that’ll include breathtaking views and a short period of weightlessness.
After years of development, space tourism really does look as if it’s about to finally take off.