To Briefly Go: Billionaires Branson & Bezos Battle for Bragging Rights Where Few Have Gone Before

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Fewer than 25 suborbital spaceflights have ever been conducted
  • Most suborbital launches were conducted with vehicles retired decades ago
  • No suborbital flight has ever carried a paying passenger
  • There is no agreement on what even constitutes a suborbital spaceflight

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When Richard Branson and three Virgin Galactic employees strap into their seats aboard SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on Sunday, they will briefly go where not very many have gone before: suborbital space.

Of the 374 attempts to launch astronauts to space since Yuri Gagarin flew into Earth orbit 60 years ago, only 23 were suborbital flights. The majority of those launches were conducted during the 1960’s using vehicles that long ago became museum pieces. One ended with the loss of the spacecraft and its pilot. And two flights were unintentional ones involving vehicles being launched into Earth orbit.

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China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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Astronauts Return from International Space Station

NASA astronaut Nick Hague, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and visiting astronaut from United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hazzaa Ali Almansoori returned to Earth from the International Space Station at 6:59 am in Kazakhstan. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Nick Hague returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Thursday, alongside Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and visiting astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The crew landed safely at 6:59 a.m. EDT in Kazakhstan.

Hague and Ovchinin launched March 14, along with fellow NASA astronaut Christina Koch. Six hours later, they began their 203-day mission on the station, orbiting Earth 3,248 times and traveling 86.1 million miles.

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Satellite Software Contest on Space Station as Crew Tests Organ Printing

The International Space Station as it appears in 2018. Zarya is visible at the center of the complex, identifiable by its partially retracted solar arrays. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The International Space Station is the setting today for a student competition to control tiny, free-floating satellites aboard the orbiting lab. Meanwhile, the Expedition 60 crewmembers conducted a variety of research operations and continued configuring a pair of spacesuits.

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Astronaut, Cosmonaut Safe After Abort During Launch to International Space Station

Expedition 57 Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos, left, and Flight Engineer Nick Hague of NASA, right. embrace their families after landing at the Krayniy Airport, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (NASA PR) — American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin are resting comfortably in the city of Baikonur, Kazakhstan, after an anomaly occurred shortly after their launch.

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