A PR war between two billionaire-owned space companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, is beginning to be spiced up.
Ever since Virgin announced they would try to fly its founder Branson to space nine days before Bezos flies on its own rocket, Blue Origin has been on a warpath to discredit Virgin’s suborbital space plan and publicly attacked everything from the vehicle’s top height to its size. windows. Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith wished Branson good luck after Virgin’s announcement, but claimed he was not. really go out into space ̵
The Kármán line, 62 miles above the ground, is the boundary of space recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), a Swiss organization that sets global rules for air sports. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches its crew capsule just off the Kármán line in a few minutes of weightlessness, while Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft flies 55 miles high – just above the space limit defined by the US government. So both companies say they are flying to space, just by different standards.
From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly over the Kármán line, so none of our astronauts have a star next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, the square starts 100 km up the internationally recognized Kármán line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ
– Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
Blue Origin tweeted a colorful chart Friday two days before Branson’s flight, comparing Virgin Galactic’s space plan with Blue Origin’s New Shepard on window size, vehicle type, escape system and other factors. “From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly over the Kármán line, so none of our astronauts have a star next to their name,” the company said in its tweet, suggesting Virgin Galactics SpaceShipTwo passengers who did not can call themselves astronauts. The company went on to suggest that the Kármán line is a legally binding international standard: “For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up the internationally recognized Kármán line.”
When asked where it took the 96 percent figure from, a Blue Origin spokesman clarified in an email to The edge that they withdrew the American people from the people of the world because the United States follows a different standard than the FAI, the Switzerland-based organization. “The U.S. Air Force is the only government agency that has consistently recognized a lower altitude as the space limit (80 km / 50 miles),” the spokesman added. In fact, both NASA and the FAA, a U.S. government agency that licenses Blue Origin launches, also use the same 50-mile standard to recognize space boundaries. It is worth noting that Blue Origin is based in the United States and is generally required to follow U.S. space standards.
Virgin Galactic did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blue Origin’s tweet. But Nicola Pecile, a Virgin Galactic test pilot, hit back and said in a now-deleted tweet, “this pissing competition on the Karman line is so childish that it’s going to be really embarrassing to watch. Flying over 100K ft is already so complicated that anyone who does it deserves special recognition. In another tweet, he quoted Virgin Galactic’s first human spaceflight in 2018, adding that Blue Origin “has only flown mannequins so far.”
The “pissing competition” on Twitter was just the latest battle in a month full of snark and sass between the two billionaire-funded space companies as each gears up to fly their respective billionaire founders into space. Virgin Galactic’s decision to fly with Branson on July 11 was widely seen as a PR move to hit Bezos’ launch into space on July 20. Branson was originally ready to fly on a later flight, probably a few months from now. When Branson was asked on CNBC last week if he was trying to hit Bezos in space, he replied, “Jeff who?” (That was the same initial response SpaceX CEO Elon Musk gave when asked a similar question in a 2016 BBC interview).
Blue Origin’s tweet on Friday revived online discussion about where the space’s boundary should be set. Interpretations vary widely between fields of study – a meteorologist can argue that space begins much lower than where a planetary scientist would set the bar. But for human spaceflight, the United States has long maintained that 50 miles is the appropriate altitude for space to begin, and the point at which a person can earn their “astronaut”.
Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer and expert tracker of space objects, claims in an 2018 academic paper that space begins 50 miles above the earth, based on physics and about the minimum height of orbital objects. In a phone call with The edge, McDowell pushed back on Blue Origin’s claim that the vast majority of the world’s population believes that space begins at the FAI’s 62-mile marker and that it is an “internationally recognized” standard. While most space countries may agree with the FAI standard, it does not represent a large portion of the world’s population, he says.
“Many countries do not have an opinion, many countries have not chosen to take a stand on it. And international legal bodies, which the FAI is not, have not ruled on it. So to say that it is internationally agreed is a bit of a stretch. ”