Branson vs. Bezos: An Update

Virgin Galactic’s cheering section in the New Mexico media is celebrating the company’s latest test flight, which saw its “spacecraft” reach a height of “170,800 ft, into the Mesosphere for the first time.”

Impressive — but not as much as you might think. As the chart above indicates, Jeff Bezos continues to pummel Richard Branson in the race to send tourists to suborbital space. The Amazon mogul’s Blue Origin has conducted nine tests flight of its New Shepard vehicle, with each launch attaining altitudes of 58 miles or more. Six crossed the Kármán line, which is the traditional delineation between the atmosphere and space.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t come close to marching Blue Origin’s accomplishments. While the tech its current vehicle is based on did enter space in 2004 — that’s nearly 14 years ago — its two tests flights in the last few months hit altitudes of just 16 and 32 miles.

In other white-elephant-in-the-desert news, online journalist Heath Haussamen reports that the attorney general’s office has determined that the “Spaceport Authority violated an open government law several times in its responses to’s efforts to investigate Spaceport America in 2017.” It’s the “second time the AG’s office has determined that the Spaceport Authority violated open government law. In August 2017 … the Spaceport Authority violated [the Inspection of Public Records Act] four times in its interactions with television reporter Patrick Hayes — by improperly attempting to charge fees for public records, failing to provide records in electronic format, prohibiting the use of digitizing equipment, and denying a records request without explanation.”

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing small-launcher industry continues to avoid “Spaceport America” as if the facility were toxic. Astra Space performed a suborbital test in Alaska, Rocket Lab is looking at anywhere-but-New-Mexico for its domestic launch site, and Firefly Aerospace picked California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base for testing.

Adding a final insult, Facebook recently ditched its plan “for a massive drone to beam internet access to underserved communities across the globe,” meaning no testing will occur at “Spaceport America.”

Perhaps it’s time for reporters in the Land of Enchantment to get the stars our of their eyes, and start asking tough questions of both Virgin Galactic’s flacks and the spaceport’s well-paid mouthpieces.

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