Where does space begin and what is the Kármán Line, the keys to the dispute between Bezos and Richard Branson

Where does space begin and what is the Kármán Line, the keys to the dispute between Bezos and Richard Branson

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Where does space begin and what is the Kármán Line, the keys to the dispute between Bezos and Richard Branson

When everything seemed to indicate that Jeff Bezos was going to become the first space tourist in history, Virgin Galactic, with billionaire Richard Branson in the front row, it was advanced by nine days.

However, the controversy is just beginning: from Blue Origin, the aerospace company of the founder of Amazon, they point out that Branson’s ship did not exceed the so-called Kármán limit,the boundary between atmosphere and space.

The Virgin founder was not supposed to fly until the end of this year. But to take advantage, he changed his plans when he learned that Bezos was taking off on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

To lower the price, the founder of Amazon remarked that the flight into space of billionaire Richard Branson should not be considered as such since did not reach sufficient altitude (100 kilometers) something that he assured himself will achieve with his manned trip on the Blue Origin.

“For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 kilometers highin the Kármán line, internationally recognized“Bezos’s company wrote on Twitter.

The Kármán line is considered the boundary between atmosphere and outer space, for aviation and astronautics purposes. This definition is accepted by the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI), which is an organization dedicated to establishing international standards and recognizing records in this field.

This altitude was estimated at 100 km above sea level by Theodore von Kármán, calculating the height at which the density of the atmosphere becomes so low that the speed of an aircraft to achieve aerodynamic lift by means of wings and propellers should be comparable to the orbital speed for the same height, so that reached that height by these means the wings would no longer be valid to maintain the ship.

Lack of consensus

Virgin Galactic’s ship in full swing. AFP photo

However, the consensus around this limit is not unanimous. The United States government itself uses different definitions of space.

NASA and the FAA grant astronaut wings to those who exceed 80 kilometers in altitude, but NASA Mission Control formally considers that the limit with space is still beyond the Kármán line: 122 kilometers.

Since every millionaire has his own rule, Bezos’s argument is that the Virgin Galactic ship does not it managed to exceed 80 kilometers, therefore, it never reached space.

Virgin Galactic has not commented on the Blue Origin ‘attack’, but their test pilot Nicola Pecile wrote a tweet, which was later deleted, stating that the competition for the Kármán line “it’s so childish it’s getting really embarrassing to watch“.

Before takeoff, Virgin Galactic made three trips that exceeded the altitude of 80 kilometers. Its last manned flight in May this year reached 88.5 kilometers at its highest point..

Where does space begin and what is the Kármán Line, the keys to the dispute between Bezos and Richard Branson

Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, in the private space race. AFP photo

For this reason, Bezos returned to the charge and pointed out that “only 4% of the world recognizes the 80 kilometer limit. New Shepard flies above both of them. One of the many benefits of traveling with Blue Origin, “the company said in a statement about the mission of its aircraft.

The competitors

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and considered the third man in contention for the space tourism race among the richest men in the world, did not comment on the controversy. On Sunday he traveled to New Mexico to see and congratulate Branson on a “beautiful flight.”

The big difference with Branson is that, Blue Origin and SpaceX fly using capsules on top of rockets, rather than a reusable air-launched space plane like Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights last approximately 10 minutes, with about three minutes of weightlessness. But the returns are quite different: Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane glides to a runway, like the old NASA space shuttles did, with a couple of pilots at the helm.

Following Sunday’s success, Virgin Galactic is planning two more test flights to begin regular commercial operations in early 2022. And in the long term, it aims to fly 400 flights a year from Spaceport America.