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Home / Business / Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson still plans to be the first ‘space billionaire’ to truly travel into space.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson still plans to be the first ‘space billionaire’ to truly travel into space.



Branson is the only one in a group known as the cosmic baron, a group of space-loving billionaires that includes Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who have openly pledged to cruise in the near future aboard the spaceship. that he has finance.

Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, is working on a competitive orbit of a space-travel rocket. However, Musk’s SpaceX is focused on transporting astronauts and perhaps one day tourists on missions spanning many days into Earth orbit.

Branson has appeared in the media dozens of times over the past decade to advertise various timelines for his extraterrestrial travel, in part due to building a spaceship almost always. It took longer than expected and since development of SpaceShipTwo was plagued by two catastrophic crashes and ̵

1; recently – a pandemic. Almost every year since 2004, the company claims to have customers flying for a year or more.

However, on Thursday, Virgin Galactic set a different deadline for Branson’s flight: around January to March 2021.

Notably, that claim didn’t come from Branson. This time, it comes from Michael Colglazier, the recently installed CEO of Virgin Galactic with the goal of directing the company to grow from an engineering project in the California desert into a valuable space travel business. billions of dollars. Colglazier did not speak to reporters, but to Virgin Galactic investors, who bought into Branson’s vision after the company launched the stock market in late 2019. (The company’s valuation was increase to $ 4.5 billion, although it still burns more than $ 20 million per month as it passes the final stages of SpaceShipTwo’s testing and certification process.)
Branson also has less financial stakes in Virgin Galactic’s success compared to 16 years ago. He sold off about a quarter of his shares amid controversy and financial issues related to Covid-19 at his Virgin Atlantic airline.

But Colglazier’s message on Thursday made it clear that Branson, now in his 70s, is still planning to be the poster child for Virgin Galactic’s assertion that virtually anyone can take the trip. go safely.

Is it dangerous?

Proponents of human flight commercialization have long argued that danger – and even tragedy – cannot quell a man’s desire to travel into space.

Virgin Galactic experienced its first tragedy in 2007 when three people were killed and several others were seriously injured in a rocket engine test by employees of Scaled Composites, Virgin’s engineering and manufacturing partner. Galactic done.

It sparked strong criticism from aerospace safety experts and led to an investigation from federal agencies, but the company continued.

Branson told the Wall Street Journal in 2013: “Sadly, I think since the space program is run by governments, there has never been any real interest in facilitating the public. to space “. I would say 90% of people my age think they will go to space because they saw the moon land. ”
A year later, tragedy struck again with Virgin Galactic. The company’s prototype space plane crashed during a test flight across the California desert, killing 39-year-old co-pilot Michael Alsbury. Brason faces accusations that Virgin Galactic has ignored safety warnings, which he denies.
“If any of our rocket engineers warned of something unsafe to go, we wouldn’t go,” Branson told the BBC at the time. “We are very, very careful about safety. Nobody said anything to worry about anyone on the team about going.”

Ultimately, it was determined the pilot’s fault that caused the crash. Virgin Galactic parted ways with Scaled Composites, reorganized its manufacturing business and – within two years – got a new, fully assembled SpaceShipTwo with additional safety features.

That car, dubbed the VSS Unity, went on to flawlessly perform the 2018 test mission. Branson viewed from the ground as a spaceship screaming more than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface at three times the speed. Sound levels prior to landing safely returned at Virgin Galactic’s test facilities in rural California shortly thereafter.
Another successful test flight in 2019 was carrying its first passenger, and that’s not Branson. Virgin Galactic’s head of safety and training, Beth Moses, who checked the comfort of riding from the spaceship’s cabin. She describes the experience as “intense” but not “too dramatic.”

At least eight other Virgin Galactic employees will fly on SpaceShipTwo prior to Branson’s flight. The company says it plans to fly another test with just two pilots this fall, and another trip with two pilots and four test passengers will take off in early 2021. All of that. will aim to obtain the Federal Aviation Administration’s seal of approval, SpaceShipTwo certification for commercial operations.

Branson will be on the next flight after that.

It’s not yet clear whether Virgin Galactic’s business model – or any space travel business – can turn out to be a successful and sustainable monetization business. But Virgin Galactic executives have conceded over the years that its success or failure will depend on whether the company can convince the public that the ride is not only safe, but worth every seat. sitting or not.


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