Today’s Tidbits: June 9, 2021

Today’s Tidbits: June 9, 2021

Here are’s tidbits for June 9, 2021:  President Biden touts space; Prime Minister Johnson touts space; Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos getting ready to fly; Chinese astronauts getting ready to fly. Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for live-tweeting of events and other up-to-the-minute news.

President Biden Touts Space in Cornwall

Joe Biden is on his first foreign trip since becoming President of the United States. His first stop is the United Kingdom for the G-7 summit, which is taking place in Cornwall.  Upon arrival today, he spoke to U.S. Air Force Personnel and their families at Royal Air Force Mildenhall.

As he has in the past, Biden used the space program as an example of what can be accomplished when Americans work together.

Prime Minister Johnson Touts Space in Cornwall

Biden wasn’t the only one in Cornwall touting space today.  U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also there for the G-7 summit and visited Newquay where Virgin Orbit is building a spaceport for launches of its LauncherOne air-launched rocket.  Wearing a Virgin Orbit jacket emblazoned with “Prime Minister,” he stood in front of a LauncherOne rocket and said “we’re hoping very much this will be the kind of launcher that will be used by Virgin to send UK payloads, UK satellites, up into space and really put the Newquay spaceport on the map.”

Branson and Bezos Getting Ready to Fly

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is designed to put satellites into orbit, but Virgin founder Richard Branson is also building another air-launched rocket, SpaceShipTwo, to take people not into orbit, but on suborbital flights above the imaginary line that separates air and space. That is another part of his business empire, Virgin Galactic. founder Jeff Bezos is building a completely different type of suborbital rocket, New Shepard, to do the same thing through his company Blue Origin.

Both are now getting ready to fly on their own vehicles. The question is whether they are in a race to see who’s first.

Bezos announced on Monday via Instagram that he will be one of the six passengers on the first New Shepard flight to carry people on July 20 (15 flights have taken place already with no one aboard). Not only that, but he invited his brother, Mark, to join him.

Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend. #GradatimFerociter

Blue Origin is auctioning one of the other seats. Bidding is up to $4.0 million. Final bids will be made on Saturday. The company has not said who will occupy the other three seats.

At the same time, Branson told the Wall Street Journal on May 24 that he’s started training for a flight aboard his SpaceShipTwo this summer.

Will Branson try to beat Bezos?  Douglas Messier at Parabolic Arc published an article citing an anonymous source that Virgin Galactic began working on a plan to send Branson into space over the July 4th weekend after Blue Origin announced its plans to launch its first passenger mission on July 20.

Virgin Galactic subsequently issued a statement that does not convey they are racing with anyone and Branson himself tweeted congratulations to Bezos.

“We are in the process of analyzing the data from our successful May 22nd flight.  As previously announced, we expect to complete the final test flights this summer through to early fall. At this time, we have not determined the date of our next flight.” — Virgin Galactic Spokesperson


As Branson says, “watch this space.”

Chinese Astronauts Getting Ready to Fly

Branson and Bezos will be making brief suborbital flights, but most people think about going into orbit when they ponder spaceflight.

China is getting ready to launch the first crew to its new Tianhe space station module, the first of three that will form the China Space Station (CSS). Tianhe’s launch in April made news mostly because its Long March 5B rocket made an uncontrolled reentry into the Indian Ocean, but the module reached orbit safely and a cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-2, docked with it on May 29 carrying supplies. The first crew could be launched aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft as soon as June 17. China has not officially announced the date, but tweeted that the rocket is ready.

China takes a slow but steady approach to human spaceflight.  Only six Chinese human spaceflight missions have taken place since 2003, most recently in 2016.  Three of those were to two small space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.  The CSS will be a major advancement for China, but is still modest compared to the U.S.-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) that has been permanently occupied by crews rotating on 4-6 month schedules since November 2000.

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