Virgin Galactic is offering a free ride to suborbital space to two contest winners from the general public.
The company announced a partnership Sunday (July 11) with charity fundraising platform Omaze for the contest, which will put two people on a spaceflight expected to launch in early 2022. The news came shortly after billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and five other people safely launched (and landed) from a trip to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceliner.
You can enter the contest here (opens in new tab); payment is not necessary to participate. In a pre-recorded video (opens in new tab) released by Virgin Galactic on Sunday, Branson detailed how he had "the most incredible experience of Earth from above" and that he is "thrilled" to give the opportunity to others.
"You'll be flown out to meet me for a private tour of Spaceport America, where we'll prepare you to be among the first to experience a Virgin Galactic spaceflight," Branson explained. Spaceport America is the liftoff and landing zone of VSS Unity, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Based on Branson's experience, you'll experience about four minutes of weightlessness aboard VSS Unity, which lifts off beneath the wings of the carrier plane VMS Eve and achieves a peak altitude above 50 miles (80 km). That's below the traditionally defined Kármán line, which lies 62 miles (100 km) up, but above the space demarcation boundary recognized by NASA, the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Eligible participants for the new contest must meet numerous conditions (opens in new tab) on the Omaze website, with some of the main ones including being at least 18 years of age, coming from a worldwide jurisdiction not prohibited from participation and providing proof of a coronavirus vaccination.
In a reminder that spaceflight is inherently dangerous, any participants must also release the contest-holders from "all liability, loss or damage or expense arising out of, or in connection with, participation in any experience or the acceptance, use or misuse of any prizes."
Between now and Aug. 31, all funds raised will go to the nonprofit Space for Humanity organization, which seeks to democratize access to space. Its advisors include Andrew Aldrin, director of the Aldrin Space Institute at the Florida Institute of Technology, and son of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, along with Alan Stern, a scientist best known for being principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and other Kuiper Belt destinations.
Virgin Galactic has been aiming to bring tourists into space since its foundation in 2004, and seats for space have sold, most recently, for $250,000 each. Today's suborbital spaceflight of Branson, and the planned July 20 jaunt of fellow billionaire and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, alongside an apparent competition between the two companies for deep-pocketed customer attention, have prompted some public discussion about how to increase tourist access to space among people who cannot afford such large sums.
That said, a selection of lucky people of ordinary means have been invited to take part in tourist spaceflights so far. Mercury 13 aviator Wally Funk will fly alongside Bezos and other passengers on July 20, while two contest winners and a childhood cancer survivor will fly with billionaire Jared Isaacman on the Inspiration4 mission to Earth orbit that will launch later this year aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
Employees of spacefaring companies may also get chances to see space, such as the three Virgin Galactic workers who flew alongside Branson on Sunday, or those entities who partner with Axiom Space, which will send its first all-private spaceflight to the International Space Station in 2022 on a Crew Dragon, if all goes to plan.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.