SIR Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space launch has won his battle to become with Elon Musk to become the first billionaire in space.

The rocket ship launched the 70-year-old and his crew from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.

Tropical storms had delayed the launch before setting off at around 3.30pm.

Branson – known as 'Astronaut 001' – soared into space in his blue spacesuitaboard Virgin Space Ship Unity, a 62ft rocket-powered space plane nestled between the twin hulls of Mother Ship Eve, which propelled them to an altitude of around 55 miles.

Read our Richard Branson live blog below for the latest news and updates…

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    WHY DID RICHARD BRANSON SUE THE NHS?

    Branson's company Virgin Care sued the NHS after it lost out on an £82million contract to provide children's health services in Surrey in 2016.

    The company cited concerns over "serious flaws" in the way the contract was awarded.

    The NHS settled the legal dispute in November 2017 with an out of court settlement for an undisclosed sum.

    NHS Surrey Downs clinical commissioning group (CCG) initially disclosed that its liability in the case was £328,000 in its October public finance papers, the Health Service Journal reported at the time.

    Virgin Care’s co-founder, Dr Vivienne McVey, said the money from the NHS settlement went into developing services for patients.

    “Virgin Care has never made a profit and the Virgin Group has actually invested more than £75 million across the UK in people and technology, supporting doctors and nurses in their jobs and significantly reducing waiting lists,” she said.

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    WHAT IS RICHARD BRANSON NET WORTH?

    Sir Richard, 69, is said to have a net worth of around £3.8billion and is a self-made businessman who launched his company Virgin almost 50 years ago.

    The Virgin boss was born in Blackheath, London, in 1950 and started his first venture, Virgin Records, in 1972, which he later sold to EMI in 1992 for £500million.

    The dad-of-two has started up some very lucrative companies along the way, including Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984 and Virgin Trains in 1993.

    He also has a keen interest in space, and launched space tourism company Virgin Galactic in 2004, with the hope of offering future trips to space for £153,000 a go.

    Sir Richard has also created Virgin Media, Virgin Racing and Virgin Comics.

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    ‘DAWN OF A NEW SPACE AGE’

    Sir Richard Branson has declared “the dawn of a new space age” after successfully blasting off on a groundbreaking space mission.

    The 70-year-old made history by beating Elon Musk to become the first billionaire in space, before safely returning to earth in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

    The British entrepreneur described the hour-long space flight as “the experience of a lifetime” and “more magical than I had ever imagined”.

    He added: “How you feel when you look down on Earth is impossible to put into words, it’s just indescribable beauty. I can’t wait for you all to get up there.”

    He congratulated his “wonderful” team for their “17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far”.

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    VIRGIN GALACTIC VSS UNITY VS BLUE ORIGIN NEW SHEPARD

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    NOT A ROCKET

    Unlike most spaceflight companies, Virgin Galactic does not use a rocket to reach space.

    Instead, its VSS Unity rocket plane ascends toward the heavens strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.

    At around 50,000ft above Earth’s surface, Unity detaches from its mothership. For comparison, commercial airliners fly at 30,000ft.

    Once separated, Unity fires up its rocket engines and flies at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space.

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    WHEN DID RICHARD BRANSON’S SPACESHIP FIRST LAUNCH?

    After years of fine-tuning, Branson successfully reached space for the first time on December 13, 2018.

    SpaceShipTwo’s Unity plane flew higher than ever before in a test that marked a huge step toward Sir Richard’s goal of firing paying customers into space this year.

    The flight, launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 3.15pm GMT, soared to an altitude of 50 miles above Earth’s surface strapped to a carrier plane called WhiteKnightTwo.

    It successfully separated from its mother ship around 45 minutes after liftoff and engaged its rocket thrusters, reaching speeds of Mach 2.9.

    SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor burnt for 60 seconds before shutting off, carrying the spaceplane to a top altitude of 51.4 miles, according to Virgin Galactic.

    The feat marked the first time the company had reached the boundary of space as defined by the US Air Force and other US agencies.

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    KHALID PERFORMS NEW SINGLE

    Singer Khalid debuted his latest single ‘New Normal’ at the Richard Branson space flight celebration.

    The song is not set for official release until July 21, but he gave viewers a historic performance after Sir Richard himself made history as the first billionaire in space.

    He was introduced by American comedian and presenter Stephen Colbert.

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    A LANDMARK MOMENT

    THE launch was hailed a “landmark moment” for billionaire businessman Richard Branson, as well as the whole commercial space industry.

    He hailed the “experience of a lifetime” after flying to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight.

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    WHAT IS THE AIM OF VIRGIN GALACTIC?

    If all goes to plan with the commercial rollout, space fans will be launched more than 50 miles above Earth – a point at which Nasa define travellers as astronauts.

    Passengers will ride aboard SpaceShipTwo, a spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots.

    It is carried aloft by a large aeroplane before breaking away and zooming to an altitude of about 62 miles.

    In 2016, the late Professor Stephen Hawking unveiled Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo craft, called VSS Unity, after the first SpaceShipTwo craft VSS Enterprise crashed during tests in 2014.

    Virgin Galactic is up against fierce competition in the private space race from firms such as Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

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    HOW MUCH IS VIRGIN GALACTIC WORTH?

    The space tourism company’s net worth is currently estimated at £2.9 billion ($4 billion).

    Meanwhile, in July 2021, Forbes listed Branson’s net worth at £4.1 billion ($5.7 billion).

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    VIRGIN GALACTIC LAUNCHES: KEY MOMENTS

    • 2018: On December 13, Branson successfully reached space for the first time, reaching a height of  51.4 miles above the Earth
    • 2019: On February 22, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time in ten weeks with three people on board, reaching three times the speed of light on the way up
    • 2021:On May 22, VSS marked the first-ever manned space flight from New Mexico
    • 2021: On July 11, the first flight with a full crew of six onboard took place

    WHO WERE THE CREW?

    The flight was piloted by David Mackay and Michael Masucci.

    As well as Richard Branson, three Virgin Galactic employees joined the flight – Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla.

    CHAMPAGNE CELEBRATION

    Making history called for a Champagne celebration for Richard Branson.

    He was snapped preparing to pop the bottle after flying with a crew in Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity to the edge of space at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

    MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE

    Richard Branson tonight announced he was “thrilled” to reveal a Virgin Galactic partnership to “open space for everyone”.

    The billionaire has teamed up with Omaze which supports Space For Humanity.

    He said: “Every charitable donation goes to support Space For Humanity and you’ll be entered into the Omaze sweepstake for the chance to win two seats aboard one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights, and a guided tour of Spaceport America given by yours truly.

    “Imagine a world where people of all ages and backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity have equal access to space.

    “They will in turn, inspire us all back here on Earth.

    “If you’ve ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true.”

    RICHARD BRANSON: WHO IS THE BRITISH BILLIONAIRE?

    The British billionaire, 70, is a self-made businessman who launched his company Virgin almost 50 years ago.

    He was born in Blackheath, London, in 1950 and started his first venture, Virgin Records, in 1972, which he later sold to EMI in 1992 for £500million.

    The dad-of-two has started up some very lucrative companies along the way, including Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984 and Virgin Trains in 1993.

    He launched Virgin Galactic in 2004, with the hope of offering future trips to space. Sir Richard has also created Virgin Media, Virgin Racing and Virgin Comics.

    In 2007, he was placed in the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World list.

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      ‘IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT INTO WORDS’

      “How you feel when you look down on Earth is impossible to put into words, it’s just indescribable beauty,” Richard Branson said after touching back down on earth.

      “I can’t wait for you all to get up there,” he added.

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      WHEN ARE OTHER BILLIONAIRES PLANNING SPACE TRIPS?

      Richard Branson today beat rival billionaire Jeff Bezos into space by nine days.

      Bezos, founder of Amazon, will be on board the suborbital flight of the New Shepard spacecraft of his own private rocket company, Blue Origin, on July 20.

      Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, along with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are competing head-to-head in the emerging space tourism business.

      Musk has previously said he plans to go to space atop one of his company’s rockets but has not given a timeframe for when he expects to fly.

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      VIRGIN GALACTIC VSS UNITY VS BLUE ORIGIN NEW SHEPARD

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      CAN’T WAIT TO JOIN THE CLUB, SAYS BEZOS

      Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has congratulated Richard Branson on his historic space flight, and has said he “can’t wait to join the club”.

      Bezos is set to blast into space on the anniversary of the Moon Landing in nine days.

      He had hoped to be the first billionaire to make it to the edge of space, but seems excited at the prospect of being second.

      Bezos said: “Congratulations on the flight. Cant wait to join the club!”

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      KHALID PERFORMS NEW SINGLE

      Singer Khalid debuted his latest single ‘New Normal’ at the Richard Branson space flight celebration.

      The song is not set for official release until July 21, but he gave viewers a historic performance after Sir Richard himself made history as the first billionaire in space.

      He was introduced by American comedian and presenter Stephen Colbert.

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      NOT A ROCKET

      Unlike most spaceflight companies, Virgin Galactic does not use a rocket to reach space.

      Instead, its VSS Unity rocket plane ascends toward the heavens strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.

      At around 50,000ft above Earth’s surface, Unity detaches from its mothership. For comparison, commercial airliners fly at 30,000ft.

      Once separated, Unity fires up its rocket engines and flies at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space.

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      ‘TO THE NEXT GENERATION OF DREAMERS’

      Richard Branson urged the “next generation of dreamers to “imagine what they can do” during his historic space flight.

      The Brit billionaire said while in his Virgin Galactic ship: “I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars.

      “Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth.

      “To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”

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      'DAWN OF A NEW SPACE AGE'

      Sir Richard Branson has declared "the dawn of a new space age" after successfully blasting off on a groundbreaking space mission.

      The 70-year-old made history by beating Elon Musk to become the first billionaire in space, before safely returning to earth in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

      The British entrepreneur described the hour-long space flight as "the experience of a lifetime" and "more magical than I had ever imagined".

      He added: "How you feel when you look down on Earth is impossible to put into words, it’s just indescribable beauty. I can’t wait for you all to get up there."

      He congratulated his "wonderful" team for their "17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far".

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      BRANSON’S NET WORTH

      Sir Richard, 69, is said to have a net worth of around £3.8billion.

      He is a self-made businessman who launched his company Virgin almost 50 years ago.

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      HOW MUCH IS VIRGIN GALACTIC WORTH?

      The space tourism company’s net worth is currently estimated at £2.9 billion ($4 billion).

      Meanwhile, in July 2021, Forbes listed Branson’s net worth at £4.1 billion ($5.7 billion).

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