Virgin Galactic Space Flight, Richard Branson Space Company

Richard Branson’s Plans for Space Tourism Sure Are Aggressive

Move aside, Musk. Within four years, the Virgin honcho wants to send people to space every 32 hours.

  • Virgin Galactic is getting real in its plans for space tourism.
  • A document filed by the company’s minority owners details its aggressive plans for the next several years, beginning with test flights in 2020.
  • By 2023, if Virgin Galactic and others have their way, space tourism will have reached a level of normalcy (at least for those who can afford it.)

The launch into commercial space travel will be an aggressive one, if Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic gets its way. Within a document published by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company describes a plan with crewed test flights starting in 2020 and sending 1,500 tourists into space every year by 2023.

The document was an SEC filing by Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings (SCHH), 49 percent owners of Virgin Galactic. Without much fanfare, Virgin Galactic has gone public on the New York Stock Exchange as a subsidiary of SCHH, a special purpose acquisition company run by former Facebook employees.

The filing describes a clear plan for Virgin Galactic: tickets going for $250,000 each, promising several minutes of weightlessness and views of the curvature of Earth. Virgin Galactic will take customers 50 miles above Earth’s surface, at which point both NASA and Air Force pilots get their astronaut wings.

The filing describes a “universal fascination with human spaceflight” and notes that among the millionaire set Virgin Galactic is targeting, out-of-home experiences are often a priority beyond luxury goods or amenities.

However, where Virgin Galatic is taking its passengers is not a universally agreed upon definition of space. There’s also the Kármán line, or 100 km (about 62 miles) into space. That’s the Earth-space separation point for the Fédération aéronautique internationale (FAI), which maintains aeronautical and astronomical records.

Kármán line debate aside, SCHH says that almost 700 people have signed up for rides in a SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, which require two pilots and can hold six passengers. The company hopes to start with 16 flights in 2020, bumped up to 270 flights a year by 2023. At that point, Virgin Galactic hopes it will have a full fleet of five SS2 spacecraft, as opposed to the two spacecraft (VSS Enterprise and VSS Unity) it does now. Each Virgin Galactic spacecraft also requires a quadjet cargo airplane for launching.

Along with fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Branson hopes to launch a new era of space tourism. It appears that the potential business model is coming into focus.

Will Virgin Galactic Space Flights Take Off Soon?

Will Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Space Flights Take Off Soon?

We went to middle-of-nowhere New Mexico to find out

There’s a lot of nothing in New Mexico. As one of the least populated states in America, the arid landscape offers countless miles of rock- and scrub-lined highways stretching between sporadic, lonely rest stops. Away from Santa Fe, there doesn’t seem to be a town big enough to change its own future, let alone the future of the world.

Still, if you head about 25 miles south of Truth or Consequences (yes, real town name), you’ll come across a vast stretch of fenced-in concrete and tarmac laid out around a hub of sprawling, modern buildings. You’ve discovered Spaceport America, the country’s first private launch facility for orbital tourism and the operational headquarters for Virgin Galactic.

There’s a lot of nothing in New Mexico (John Lewinski)

After years of investment, engineering and construction, the Virgin Galactic space tourism service appears set to send its first customers (and owner Richard Branson) into the stars this year. In the meantime, the company is hard at work building an elite, exclusive community among aspiring astronauts able to pay the $250,000 roundtrip ticket. (The one-way trips seem more popular with cremated customers so far.)

More than 600 would-be Buzz Aldrin(s) paid the $50,000 deposit to snag their seats before Virgin put a hold on sales. They’ll float over the remaining $200K before T-minus-zero takes them skyward.

Clare Pelly, Head of the Virgin Galactic Astronaut Office, is in charge of keeping those 600+ planetary pioneers engaged, organized and entertained as the company completes its final round of test flights over the great American southwest. She says it was Branson’s idea to build this astronaut community to test the waters and see how willing people were to get onboard the space train.

“The response was overwhelming,” Pelly tells InsideHook. “There are more than 60 nations represented, led by the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada and Russia. Many of the customers never thought they’d have the chance to fly into space, and they get that opportunity through us.”

“Then, there are the people who have done everything. They’ve climbed Everest. They’ve been pole to pole, and this is just the ultimate addition to their bucket list.”

After making test flights for the last five years, Virgin Galactic recently completed the most advanced version of its Space Plane. Resembling a mix of a Gulfstream jet and a trimmed-down space shuttle, the craft will carry six tourists per flight above the atmosphere. Those happy few will experience total weightlessness and view the globe from above as the craft turns over to allow a full view through the roof viewing port.

The eventual plan is to fire up a new flight daily as long as demand maintains escape velocity. There’s no official word yet if such a successful, ongoing and regular service will generate enough revenue to bring that 250-large down a tick or two.

For now, Virgin Galactic is prepping for about 100 flights to get its current eager ticket holders off the ground. It’s the job of Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor, to get all of those passengers educated, trained and prepped for short term space travel.

“The process starts several months before the passengers’ flight,” Moses says. “Leading right up to your flight, you would travel to New Mexico for a week. Sunday, we’d do final fittings on your Under Armour space suit. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday would be solid training days, with your flight coming that week.”

Six months before all of that begins in the desert, Pelly’s Astronaut Office steps in to get your suit measurements and other physical details for your bespoke seat, to research your expectations and goals for your flight and to introduce you to the larger space-tourist community.

Training falls to Moses, as a former NASA Assembly Manager and the first woman to reach space on a commercial flight. She’s been directly involved in the design and engineering of the passenger experience from early in the Virgin Galactic story — serving as the Cabin Test Lead.

As the engineers produce each new version of the Space Plane, she works with the evaluating and development program to make sure this expensive journey to the stars offers up maximum comfort and safety. A glimpse inside that cabin reveals seats for two pilots and six tourists. Those six guest spots offer a clear view to the left and right, as well as overhead — the ship’s “sunroof” will get you closer to said sun than the roof of any hatchback will. The entire “space” stretch of the journey lasts less than 15 minutes, with the total flight time stretching just over an hour.

“During takeoff and into the flight, the experience is very much like standard air travel,” Moses claims. “But, when in space, you get to unbuckle and float around and have fun. From the customer perspective, that difference is huge.”

Once in that made-to-order seat, every passenger’s successful adventure is in the hands of David Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot. A veteran of the Royal Air Force and a longtime captain in the more atmosphere-bound Virgin Atlantic fleet, Mackay served as a test pilot for world famous aircraft like the Harrier jump-jet before receiving the Air Force Cross in 1992.

“We go officially into space — about 50 miles above the Earth, the NASA-accepted definition,” Mackay explains. “The challenge of this flight is that, while the plane is still in the atmosphere, it flies as a regular aircraft would. Once it leaves the atmosphere, you’re on a ballistic flight path. That’s predetermined by the way you leave the atmosphere.”

The Scotsman commands a team of six space pilots — all of whom serve as test crew during the Virgin Galactic development stages. During his successful first complete test flight, Mackay became the first Scot in space.

A propeller-powered mothership carries the Space Plane up to a cruising altitude above Spaceport America before Mackay’s craft detaches and activates its onboard booster rocket. While a controlled burn tears through enough fuel to get the craft out of the atmosphere’s upper levels. Mackay positions the vehicle for the passengers’ experience of zero gravity and the best possible views.

“We can’t change the flight path of the vehicle, but you can change the vehicle’s attitude. We can orientate it to optimize the flight path. We believe the best option is to invert the vehicle at apogee. We also reenter the atmosphere in an inverted position, so passengers get a chance to see the Earth rushing back toward them.”

(John Lewinski)

After the space plane escaped the surly bonds of Earth long enough to give its passengers a taste of the void, it’s up to Mackay to get all souls on board back to the dirt. He describes the ship behaving like a badminton birdie at this point, adjusting its tail into a feather position to stabilize its descent.

At this point, the space plane will have burned out its rocket engine (its only onboard propellent) several minutes ago. Once out of its shuttlecock formation, the aircraft becomes “dead stick,” gliding outside the bounds of terminal velocity thanks to physics and Mackay’s piloting skills. The only thing left after that is touchdown, along an extensive runway back in the New Mexico desert.

Virgin Atlantic just completed construction of its third space plane vehicle, certifying it “weight on wheels,” or able to hold its total structural integrity. Within the coming year, the world will learn if a space tourism effort can maintain its own “weight on wheels” by sending civilian space travelers skyward every single day.

Virgin Galactic wants to send people to space every 32 hours by 2023 – Business Insider

Richard Branson wants Virgin Galactic to send people to space every 32 hours by 2023

  • According to a document published by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Virgin Galactic is planning to send groups into space every 32 hours by 2023.
  • Selling tickets at $250,000 each, Virgin Galactic is now competing with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin as well as Elon Musk’s SpaceX to transport tourists to space.
  • The company claims that trips in its vessel, SpaceShipTwo, will offer a few minutes of weightlessness to six passengers at a time, as well as views of the curvature of the Earth.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It was already known that Virgin Galactic was planning to send its first customers to space by June 2020 but, according to a document published by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Richard Branson’s spaceflight company is planning to go one step further.

As part of an $800 million fundraising campaign, the British entrepreneur wants to send groups into space every 32 hours by 2023.

Selling tickets at $250,000 each, Virgin Galactic is now competing with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin as well as Elon Musk’s SpaceX to transport tourists to space — with Blue Origin listing trips to space at $200,000 per ticket.

VSS Unity — also known as SpaceShipTwo — will, over the course of a 90-minute flight, offer a few minutes of weightlessness to six passengers at a time, as well as views of the curvature of the Earth — the vessel should reach an altitude of around 100 kilometers.

According to the document, the company plans to start with 16 flights a year in 2020, then to increase this to 270 flights a year by 2023, when it will have its entire fleet of five vessels — which works out to around one flight every 32 hours.

Within four years, it will eventually have the capacity to transport 1,565 people on a year-round basis.

The shuttle will be flown by the WhiteKnightTwo jet aircraft.

Over 600 people have already booked a place as a space tourist, including actor Ashton Kutcher, allowing Virgin Galactic to raise combined deposits of $80 million.

Virgin Galactic estimates that revenues from these commercial flights are expected to increase from $31 million next year to $570 million by 2023, according to Parabolic Arc, but these forecasts should be treated with caution.

After 15 years of development, Virgin Galatic’s private space program has experienced a number of setbacks, with Branson having alluded to launch dates and missing them.

In 2014, the SpaceShipTwo crashed on a test flight, leading to the co-pilot’s death as well as serious injuries to the pilot.

Across his three space companies, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, and Virgin Orbit, Branson is thought to have spent between $1 billion and $1.3 billion — for comparison, Jeff Bezos has spent roughly the same amount per year.

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are part of a group of tech leaders who are currently spending billions on the space tourism adventure, without any definite guarantee the venture will make money in the long term.

Virgin Galactic is burning through around $16 million a month, according to Parabolic Arc — that works out to roughly $190 million a year.

SpaceX has already seen years of profitability thanks to contracts it’s been awarded by NASA.

For this reason, Virgin Galactic is expected to be listed on the stock exchange by the end of 2019 as part of an agreement with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), set up by venture capital firms Social Capital Hedosophia.

Branson told CNBC that he was preparing to go into space with Virgin Galactic and that he was undergoing special astronaut and fitness training in a centrifuge to be physically ready for the journey.

Commentary: Space travel? Virgin Galactic leads the race

Commentary: Space travel? Virgin Galactic leads the race

Richard Branson’s space travel company has recently listed and, according to Trinity College Dublin’s Louis Brennan, it is poised to provide healthy returns to investors.

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DUBLIN, Ireland: Richard Branson rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct 28 as Virgin Galactic became the first commercial spaceflight company to list on the stock market.

It was valued at more than US$1 billion following its merger with publicly-listed holding firm Social Capital Hedosophia, then experienced a 20 per cent drop in its share price after a week of trading. It is now worth around US$800 million.

READ: Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic takes off in NYSE debut

The route to success in the space tourism industry is bound to be a wild ride and Mr Branson is hoping his first mover advantage will bring healthy returns in the long run. Indeed, this high-risk venture could well pay off – it is just a question of when.


Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 to offer paying customers a trip into suborbital space. For US$250,000, anyone can take a 90-minute flight into the upper reaches of the atmosphere where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth’s surface.

According to Virgin, 600 people from some 60 countries have already made their reservations, while a further 3,700 people have registered for the opportunity to buy flights once ticket sales are back on offer.

This suggests that the combination of Mr Branson’s marketing prowess and the allure of space for humans are a plausible value proposition for investors.

READ: Meet the Singaporean designer behind the world’s first commercial spaceport

Virgin is also offering a much cheaper route to experiencing space than its competitors. There have only been seven space tourists to date and none since 2009.

All travelled on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) at a reported price tag of tens of millions of dollars.

This artist’s illustration courtesy of SpaceX shows the SpaceX BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) passenger spacecraft, which has only been shown in designs and images so far. (Photo: AFP)


NASA announced in June that it would offer trips to the ISS at a cost of US$35,000 per night, not including the cost of a taxi ride there from SpaceX and Boeing.

The cost of these rides is likely to be at least US$60 million, which is what NASA pays to take its astronauts to the ISS, and these visits are due to start in 2020.

In September 2018, SpaceX unveiled its 2023 lunar passenger flight that would take Japanese billionaire businessman Yusaku Maezawa and six of his guests on a space flight around the moon using its Big Falcon Rocket for an undisclosed, but certainly a very substantial, price.

READ: Commentary: SpaceX launch shows corporations, not governments, are setting the space agenda


Although it has yet to fly any paying passengers and is currently loss making, Virgin Galactic aims to be profitable by 2021, based on completing 115 flights that generate US$210 million in revenue.

By 2023, it is forecasting revenues of US$590 million and expects to have flown more than 3,000 passengers. Since that number is a tiny portion of the target market of high net-worth individuals with assets of at least US$10 million, its projections could well be achievable.

And, currently, Virgin Galactic appears to be ahead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in fulfilling the vision of space tourism.

While Virgin Galactic has failed to deliver on expectations in the past – it missed its own targets for flights commencing and experienced a catastrophic accident in 2014 – it has more recently made substantial progress. In December 2018 it achieved its first suborbital space flight.

Given that achievement and subsequent progress, it seems likely that commercial flights could commence within the next 18 months.

It is also diversifying its offering as it gears up for launch. In collaboration with the sportswear maker Under Armour, Virgin Galactic has developed a line of high-tech clothing that its passengers will wear on their flights.

At the same time, it is moving into its new facilities at Spaceport America in the desert lands of New Mexico.

Sir Richard Branson rings a bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as Virgin Galactic (SPCE) begins public trading in New York, U.S., October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Spaceport America, where Virgin’s flights will take off from and return to, has a US$220 million investment by the New Mexico government. It is also here that passengers will undergo three days of training to prepare for the G-forces and weightlessness that they will experience on flights.

READ: To infinity and beyond: An inside look at the world’s first commercial spaceport


The business of space tourism is only just beginning. Air travel similarly started small with a limited target market, but grew to become a mass market with many commercial air carriers and millions travelling every month, served by airports that over time became large commercial hubs.

The trajectory for space tourism travel in the decades to come has the potential to be similar. From a highly niche market, it can become one that has much broader appeal when costs reduce.

At the same time, spaceports can, like airports before them, become large concentrated centres of commercial activity.

Should Virgin Galactic maintain its first-mover advantage in space tourism in the years ahead, there is the prospect for healthy returns to investors in this high-risk venture.

Louis Brennan is Professor of Business Studies at Trinity College Dublin. This commentary first appeared in The Conversation.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson sets date of first trip into space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson sets date of first trip into space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has long claimed that one day he would ride into space aboard his company’s spaceplane, and now he knows when.

The British billionaire said Thursday that he plans to take his first trip to space within the next six months — the flight will coincide with the anniversary of the first landing of astronauts on the moon, one of spaceflight’s greatest achievements.

“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” he told AFP during an event at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The first moon landing occurred on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set their lander down on the lunar surface.

Branson’s remarks come two months after the most recent test of the company’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, in which a pair of pilots flew the craft to an altitude of 51 miles above California’s Mojave Desert before landing safely. Most experts agree that space begins at the Karman line, an imaginary boundary at the far edge of Earth’s atmosphere some 62 miles above average sea level.

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“I’m itching to go,” Branson told CBS News after that successful test.

The December test flight was one of a series of four so far for Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane, including a disastrous October 2014 test during which the craft broke up in flight. The crash killed one crew member and seriously injured another.

Despite the accident, Virgin Galactic says hundreds of customers have signed up for a brief suborbital flight into space. A ticket to ride costs $250,000.

But will the company be ready in time to meet Branson’s ambitious timetable? “I need to wait for our team to say they’re 100 percent happy,” he told AFP. “I don’t want to push them.”

“I think they are ready,” Richard Garriott, a video game developer who in 2008 spent $30 million to spend 12 days orbiting Earth as a private astronaut, told NBC News MACH in an email. “They will likely have a few more test flights between now and then, but they are basically ready now by publicly available measures.”


Space Video from Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity shows stunning view from edge of space

Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company working to indulge the dreams of wannabe astronauts.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in September that the company would fly a Japanese billionaire around the moon aboard its Big Falcon spaceship in 2023. And Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, plans to charge customers $200,000 to $300,000 for brief suborbital flights aboard its New Shepard spacecraft sometime this year.

Garriott said Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin likely would have plenty of customers for years to come. “The real question is sustainability after the first few hundreds of flyers,” he added. “I do have price elasticity concerns once the price becomes multiples of hundreds of thousands.”

Branson said the next test flight of SpaceShipTwo was planned for Feb. 20.

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Richard Branson expects to fly passengers into space by 2020 – Science & Tech – The Jakarta Post


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This May 29, 2018 handout photograph obtained courtesy of Virgin Galactic shows the Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity. (AFP/Virgin Galactic/File)

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British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will merge with an investment firm from the US to become the world’s first publicly traded space tourism venture – with an eye on sending its first clients into space within a year, the group’s chief executive said recently.

“By embarking on this new chapter, at this advanced point in Virgin Galactic’s development, we can open space to more investors, and in doing so open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Branson said in a statement.

Virgin Galactic and Wall Street investment firm Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH) will merge, with SCH expected to own up to 49% of the combined company, the statement said. The value of the merger is US$1.5 billion, the parties added. The transaction is expected to be completed soon.

Until now, Virgin Galactic has largely been funded by Branson himself, who launched the company in 2004 and has thus far invested over US$1 billion of his personal fortune.

After years of development – and an accident in 2014 that killed a co-pilot – the company has a viable spacecraft that has twice reached the edge of space. Though so far, no paying customers have taken the journey. “We plan to do that within a year,” chief executive George Whitesides said.

Until then, test flights will continue. The company is also moving into its spaceport in New Mexico, the base for its commercial flights.

To date, Virgin has reservations from over 600 people from 60 countries, earning it about US$80 million in paid deposits and US$120 million in potential revenues, the group said. Whitesides added there are 2,500 people on the waitlist.

Commercial space race

Virgin Galactic is up against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to be the first to send tourists into space.

SCH founder and chief executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who is investing US$100 million of his own money in the merger and is set to be the new partnership’s chairman, expressed confidence.

Virgin Galactic “is light years ahead of the competition,” Palihapitiya said. “I cannot wait to take my first trip to space and become an astronaut,” he added.

The cash injection will be welcome, after a similar proposal from Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund was suspended last year following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The long wait

Virgin is offering passengers only a few minutes in space, six at a time. They will float in the spacecraft’s cabin and see the curvature of the Earth under a black sky through huge windows.

The spaceship is a cross between a plane and a rocket. It is released at high altitude by a carrier airplane, then ignites its own engine, traveling at three times the speed of sound.

The boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space is set at 80 kilometers by US military and space agency NASA, though the international standard is 100 kilometers. Whitesides says that this difference is negligible “from an experience perspective”.

Then the ship falls to Earth like a cannonball, before gliding and landing like a plane back in the New Mexico desert. “Great progress in our test flight program means that we are on track for our beautiful spaceship to begin commercial service,” Branson said in the statement.

To keep clients enthused during the wait, Whitesides said the company took some of them on a trip to Chile to see the recent total solar eclipse. “Very few” have asked for refunds over the years, he said.

Those who have already paid up to US$250,000, plus those on the waitlist, would keep Virgin Galactic busy for “a good chunk of the first three or four years”, Whitesides added.

“When you look at the development costs and the costs to create this service and the value that it provides, it’s probably a bit underpriced,” Whitesides said. “I do expect the price to go up.”

As for Virgin’s competition, Whitesides says there will be enough business for them too, and that the industry will be “capacity-constrained” for several years to come.

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Virgin Galactic Plans To Become First Publicly Traded Spaceflight Company: NPR

Virgin Galactic Plans To Become 1st Publicly Traded Spaceflight Company

Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo returns after a test flight in California on Dec. 13, 2018. Billionaire Richard Branson is partnering with a group of investors to take his space tourism company public. Gene Blevins/Reuters hide caption

Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo returns after a test flight in California on Dec. 13, 2018. Billionaire Richard Branson is partnering with a group of investors to take his space tourism company public.

Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is preparing to enter the stock market by the end of 2019, through a merger with an existing company.

It would be the first spaceflight company to be publicly owned; Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are both privately held.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 and experienced a significant setback in 2014 when a test flight fatally crashed. But within the past year, the company has successfully taken two crewed spaceflights.


‘An Indescribable Feeling’: Virgin Galactic Makes Historic Trip To Edge Of Space

More than 6o0 people have paid to reserve spots on future commercial flights — putting down a collective $80 million in deposits, according to Virgin Galactic, and on the hook for another $120 million by the time they actually visit space.

But to make those flights a reality, the company needs more funds. Branson was discussing a substantial investment from Saudi Arabia, but he canceled those plans after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, a group of investors is working with Branson to take Virgin Galactic public, as an alternative way of raising money.

Those investors have organized into a company called Social Capital Hedosophia, which will merge with Virgin Galactic in order to convert it into a publicly traded company. Chamath Palihapitiya, the CEO of Social Capital Hedosophia, will be the chairman of the combined company; the partnering investors will own up to 49% of the shares.


Space Tourism: To Infinity And . Right Back To Earth

Palihapitiya was an early executive at Facebook. Adam Bain, the former chief operating officer of Twitter, is another major investor in the plan.

By merging with Social Capital Hedosophia, Virgin Galactic will be able to go public without needing to organize an initial public offering.

“We know that millions of people are deeply inspired by human spaceflight, would love to become more involved and, ultimately experience space for themselves,” Branson said in a statement on Monday, before the details of the plan were announced. “By taking Virgin Galactic public, at this advanced point in its development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts.”

What is Virgin Galactic, how much will it cost to fly into space and when was Sir Richard Branson’s venture launch?

What is Virgin Galactic, how much will it cost to fly into space and when was Sir Richard Branson’s venture launch?

THE sky is no longer the limit for a host of entrepreneurs who are vying to offer the first tourist trip into space.

Here’s what we know about Virgin Galactic, and when it made its first successful flight.

What is Virgin Galactic?

Intrepid explorers are lining up – and digging deep – to travel into space with Virgin Galactic.

British billionaire Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, initially predicted the maiden space flight would launch by 2009.

But the date has been repeatedly pushed back after technical problems.

A successful maiden flight finally took place in mid-December 2018.

If all goes to plan, 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.

How much will it cost to fly into space?

With a hefty price tag of $250,000 (£175,000) a ticket, the 90-minute flight is being aimed at wealthy celebrities and thrillseekers, as well as researchers.

Branson has said that “ultimately” he would like to see the price fall as low as $40,000 (£30,700) over the next decade.

And there’s already a deluge of 700 celebrities and scientists desperate to get a chance to board the spacecraft – including Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio.


2004: Branson founds Virgin Galactic and says the first launch will take place in 2007

2007: Testing of SpaceShipTwo but three workers die in an explosion during the event. The $250m spaceport, Spaceport America is agreed to be built in New Mexico

2008: Sir Richard says the first voyage will take place within 18 months

2009: Sir Richard says that flights will take place from Spaceport America within two years

2010: Virgin Galactic hire Nasa’s chief of staff, George Whitesides, as its new chief executive

2014: Sir Richard predicts the first commercial flight will take place in early 2015. A fatal accident occurs during a test launch of SpaceShipTwo

2016: Test flights of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, continue

2018: VSS Unity coasted through the black sky and into space, making history as the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. SpaceShipTwo landed from her maiden spaceflight on December 13, 2018

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

2019: Virgin Galactic drops a space rocket from custom Boeing 747 over California in first successful “launch” test on July 11

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 space plane 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.

Virgin Galactic announced on Twitter: “SpaceShipTwo, welcome to space.”

Although Branson has said he wants his first trip to space to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, July 20, 1969, that hasn’t panned out.

In February 2019, the company took a step closer to its goal of suborbital flights for space tourists when its rocket plane soared to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time.

Virgin Galactic: Inside Richard Branson – s $600m space mission, British GQ

After the crash: Inside Richard Branson’s $600m space mission

Three years after its spaceship exploded in a tragic accident, Virgin Galactic has regrouped. Sir Richard Branson hopes to start flying passengers in 2018. GQ went behind the scenes as the company attempts to fulfil the dreams of a generation of would-be astronauts

Something wasn’t quite right. It was a little after 10am on 31 October 2014 and, in the skies high above the Mojave Desert, David Mackay had just launched Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Enterprise from the underside of his aircraft. Now he was scanning the airspace for the distinctive plume of Enterprise’s rocket motor, which would mark the start of the spaceship’s fourth powered test flight. “I remember looking down and thinking, ‘Well that’s strange, the motor must be burning really clean,’ because I couldn’t see it at all,” recalls Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot. “Then we immediately started to hear things [on the radio] that indicated something bad had happened.”

Out of Mackay’s line of sight, the spaceship had, in fact, ignited its rocket and accelerated into the sound barrier as planned. Four seconds later, however, it had exploded at 46,000 feet. Enterprise’s pilot Peter Siebold had been thrown from the spaceship; despite being injured and starved of oxygen he would remarkably manage to parachute to the ground. His copilot, Michael Alsbury, would later be found dead in the wreckage, his body still strapped into his seat.

Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, was at his home in the British Virgin Islands when he learned of the accident. He took a jet straight to California. “The few hours that it took me to fly to the Mojave Desert – obviously I had a lot of time to think,” recalls the 66-year-old. “At that stage we didn’t know whether the spaceship had let us down or whether it was pilot error. If there was some kind of fundamental flaw with the spaceship then, I suppose, there would have been a possibility that we may have called it a day.” Media speculation was rife about what had gone wrong – a popular theory was that the rocket engine, which was trialling new fuel, had exploded. Although the official investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would take almost a year, instrument data and cockpit camera feeds allowed the team at the Mojave Air & Space Port, where Virgin Galactic develops its technology, to quickly reach a conclusion: pilot error.

The spaceship’s design includes a hinged twin-boom tail that’s moved upwards before re-entry from space. In that position, it causes drag crucial for controlling orientation and descent speed while heading back to earth. For a reason that remains unknown, Alsbury had unlocked it too early, before Enterprise was supersonic. Subjected to aerodynamic overload, the ship’s carbon-composite body simply ripped apart.

The media trained its guns on Branson. Wired magazine, the chroniclers in chief of pioneering ideas, ran a piece headlined “Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For”. Its opening salvo: “A brave test pilot is dead and another one critically injured – in the service of a millionaire boondoggle thrill ride.” But the entrepreneur was cool-headed. He consulted staff at Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the partner company developing the spaceship, who said they wished to carry on. So, too, did more than 97 per cent of Virgin Galactic’s customers. In an article published on Virgin’s website the day after the crash, he vowed to continue. “Space is hard,” wrote Branson, “but worth it.”

“We started to hear things on the radio that indicated something bad had happened.” David Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot

Three years on, Virgin Galactic is testing a new spaceship, VSS Unity. It looks similar to its predecessor: it’s another reusable suborbital spaceplane of a type called SpaceShipTwo, designed to be launched at high altitude from the same mother ship that Mackay was flying the day of the accident. The control system, however, has some crucial differences. The NTSB concluded that although Enterprise was indeed brought down by pilot error, the blame lay with Scaled Composites for its “failure to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard”. Unity has extra safety measures, including a failsafe that prevents the tail from being unlocked prematurely. Since its unveiling in 2016, the spaceship has been steadily advancing through its test flight programme. First, “captive carry” flights, attached to the launch aircraft throughout, and then “glide” flights, in which it’s released to sail unpowered back to earth. Next up will be the stage that Enterprise reached: rocket-powered test flights.

The boundary between the earth and space, as defined by Nasa, is at a distance of 80km above sea level. Virgin Galactic needs to take its passengers beyond it – at least fractionally – in order to qualify as a space flight. The first powered test flights will likely remain within the atmosphere; the final series will head for the stars. Enterprise never passed the boundary where space begins. If Unity manages to, it will be a landmark moment for the commercial space industry, which has regained momentum thanks to billionaires such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla’s Elon Musk making high-profile advances in their own space operations.

It will also be welcome news for Virgin Galactic customers. There are approximately 700 “future astronauts” – Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Justin Bieber reportedly among them – who have paid $200,000-$250,000 (£155,000-£195,000) up front for a ticket. The only person who has been offered a free trip is Stephen Hawking. Booking opened 12 years ago, so for many it has been a long wait. If those final test flights are successful, the wait could at last be over.

Naturally, Branson intends to be one of the first passengers up. “I certainly would be very disappointed if I don’t go up next year. And I would hope it’s earlier than later in the year,” he says. “The programme says that we should be [testing] in space by December, as long as we don’t have any setbacks between now and then.” Setbacks are one thing, but what if the worst happens: could Virgin Galactic survive a second crash? “That was the most difficult conversation that George [Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic] and I had with each other the day after the last accident. We can’t guarantee that there won’t be another one, and we can’t guarantee that the next one won’t be technical. What would we do if that happened? How would we all feel?” says Branson. “We’d have to look at what had gone wrong and then decide at the time. But I’m not one for giving up. In my ballooning adventures we had many catastrophes but we kept pushing on. So my instinct would be that, whatever happens, we’ll carry on until we succeed.”

Sally Krusing never knew how much she wanted to go to space, until one day in 2004 when she agreed to help out a friend practice her life-coaching skills. Her friend asked, “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” Without hesitation, Krusing replied, “I’d be an astronaut.” She was surprised at the conviction of her answer. Krusing had grown up in Tampa, Florida, and when the skies were clear she used to watch the rockets taking off from Cape Canaveral. They captured her imagination: in ninth grade, she made a plaster-of-Paris model of Jupiter for a school project. But she was no scientist, so she never dreamed of working for Nasa, and then life got in the way. “I didn’t go to college right out of high school, as my parents couldn’t afford it,” says the 69-year-old, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. “So I got a job with Eastern Airlines. That’s the closest I got to space.”

A few years later, she did go to college, and tried to get back into aviation after graduating, but the airlines weren’t hiring. Instead, she took a marketing job with IBM. The conversation with her life-coach friend happened just before she retired in 2004, but she didn’t act on it – how could she? Then, in 2009 she travelled to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. On the plane she picked up a magazine and read, for the first time, about Virgin Galactic. She decided to go to space.

Back then, Virgin Galactic was charging $200,000 a ticket but permitted its customers to pay a ten per cent deposit on the basis that they’d pay the full amount shortly before flying. In 2012, Krusing paid $20,000 and was given a reservation number towards the back of the queue, around the 650 mark. Later, she was told that if she paid the full amount, she would be bumped up the list. The only option was to borrow money from the bank.

“I debated long and hard, and for a while I thought, ‘There is no way I can do this, I don’t see how I can possibly afford that,’ and I got depressed. I got anxious. Then I said, ‘You know, life is too short – you gotta just go for it.’ When I’m 80 or 90 I don’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish I had done this.'” She borrowed $100,000 and withdrew the final $80,000 from the savings she had been building since she was young. In return, she was given the reservation number 382. Krusing says she didn’t countenance pulling out after the 2014 accident. “There will be a lot of people going before I go. Any travel is not as safe as living in a cocoon so it doesn’t bother me at all. And if I crash, then that’s OK. I’ve had a good life.” Based on her number, Krusing anticipates flying in 2020.

Here’s how her trip to space will unfold. Krusing will travel to New Mexico and stay in one of Virgin Galactic’s designated hotels either at the small town of Las Cruces or the even smaller town of Truth Or Consequences. (That’s its real name: in 1950, the host of a radio quiz called Truth Or Consequences promised to broadcast the tenth anniversary edition from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs obliged and the rest is history.) For four days, she will be whisked from here to Spaceport America, the site from which Virgin Galactic will fly its passengers. Designed by Foster & Partners, it is the world’s first commercial spaceport, a 110,000 sq ft structure in rust-coloured metal standing in the middle of the Jornada Del Muerto desert basin. From the air, it looks like a grounded UFO. Here, Krusing will undergo three days of training, getting to know the spaceship, rehearsing dry runs of the flight in a full mock-up simulator and learning how to manoeuvre in zero gravity (hint: “swimming” won’t help).

“The accident didn’t bother me at all. If I crash then that’s OK. I’ve had a good life.” Sally Krusing, Virgin Galactic future astronaut

On the morning of the fourth day she will rise early, as this is when flight conditions are best, and arrive at the site just shy of 4am. Once through security, she will pass a road sign reading “Asteroid Beltway” and another reading “Half Moon Street” (the location of Virgin Galactic’s original London offices) then pull up at the Spaceport’s “Gateway To Space” terminal, before making her way inside with her five fellow passengers to don a soft helmet and a flight suit made by the Adidas brand Y-3. They will take the lift down to say goodbye to friends and family, then walk out through the terminal’s enormous glass façade and into the New Mexico dawn.

At that time of the morning, the landscape will be still and unearthly, all orange skies and purple mountains. A fleet of Land Rover vehicles will shuttle the future astronauts to a SpaceShipTwo (possibly VSS Unity but more are in the works), which will be waiting, attached to the catamaran-style WhiteKnightTwo – the largest carbon-composite plane ever built – at the end of Spaceport’s 12,000 foot runway.

At around 7am, WhiteKnightTwo will take off, the would-be astronauts strapped in three rows of two inside the spacecraft hanging from its belly. After an hour, they will reach a height of 50,000 feet. The pilots will start a countdown then drop the spaceship into free flight. In the SpaceShipTwo cabin, there will be a moment of tranquillity as the noise of WhiteKnightTwo’s engines dies away, but it won’t last. Three seconds later, its rocket motor will ignite, blasting out 70,000 pound-force of thrust. The craft will accelerate rapidly, pressing passengers hard into their seats as they smash through the sound barrier, causing the spaceship to tremble. The SpaceShipTwo’s pilots will then point its nose directly up at the sky and roar to Mach 3.5 (4,322 km/h). Out of the cabin’s 12 large windows, Krusing will see the skies fade through deeper and darker shades of blue.

At 150,000 feet, beyond the bulk of the atmosphere, the rocket motor will cut out. Silence will fall, and momentum will carry them on up to 360,000 feet. The pilots will have rotated the hinged tail into position by now, flipping the spaceship on its back (the windows are mostly on the ceiling). They have made it to space. With automated cameras recording the adventure for posterity, Krusing and her co-passengers will now be permitted to unbuckle and float around the cabin. They will gaze down at the earth and, in the distance, its blue halo glowing in front of the star-flecked void. After about four minutes, they will be instructed to strap back into their seats. Gravity will start to take its course. They will descend as if in a space capsule, pulling five Gs as they hit the atmosphere. At 70,000 feet, the tail will be rotated back to its original position, turning SpaceShipTwo back into a plane. The pilots will glide towards the Spaceport. As the craft is now unpowered, they will have just one shot at a smooth landing. When she emerges, Krusing will be an astronaut.

Richard Branson – s Virgin Galactic space flights branded – dead-end tech – by top astronaut

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flights branded ‘dead-end tech’ by top astronaut

The business mogul, who is worth nearly £4billion, has come under fire from a seasoned space veteran

A TOP astronaut has branded Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space flights “dead-end tech” and “dangerous” in a scathing take-down of the British billionaire.

Aussie cosmonaut Andy Thomas said he wasn’t comfortable with how Branson was marketing his for-the-public, £200,000-a-ticket trips to the “edge of space”.

Just last week, Branson’s space company soared 50 miles above Earth as part of Virgin Galactic’s first successful test flight to space.

And while many have praised the wealthy Brit, Nasa astronaut Thomas poured scorn on the flight – and on Branson himself.

“The thing I’ve got to say about Richard Branson is he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos,” Thomas told ABC.

“He’s a businessman and he’s portraying that flight experience in a way that I would not be comfortable saying.”

He went on: “It’s true that he will fly to the edge of space, but he can’t stay there. He falls right back down.

“It’s really just a high-altitude aeroplane flight and a dangerous one at that.”

Thomas also suggested that Branson’s space flight tech was difficult to scale up.

He called it “go nowhere, dead-end technology”, and said: “You can’t grow it, you can’t make it big enough.”

Thomas is a space veteran, having made four successful space flights with Nasa.

And although he has concerns about Branson, he also admitted that he supported the billionaire’s overall mission.

“What he is spinning off is the capability to launch satellites, small satellites from under the wing of an aircraft on a small booster,” he said.

“That’s why, despite my criticisms of what he’s trying to do in human space flight, I think in terms of the satellite technology and the capabilities of launching vehicles, it’s something we should support.”

In a statement given to The Sun, a Virgin Galactic spokesperson said: “Following the successful spaceflight last week which saw a crewed space vehicle reach space from American soil for the first time since 2011, we look forward to sharing the experience of space with more people in an effort to provide a planetary perspective at a time when such a perspective is dearly needed.”

Last week, Branson revealed he planned to travel to space “within six months”, as part of the first commercial Virgin Galactic flight.

It came after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity soared 50 miles above Earth last Thursday, ahead of the company’s first commercial spaceflights for private passengers in 2019.

The flight, launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 3:15pm GMT, soared to an altitude of 271,000 feet 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 space plane to a top altitude of 51.4 miles, according to Virgin Galactic.

Speaking after the flight, a tearful Branson said it shows how “myself and thousands of other people like me” could make it to space.

The Brit billionaire said: “We saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. How on Earth do I describe the feeling?

“Today for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers reached space.”

Branson, who has an estimated net worth of £3.9billion, went on: “Space is not cheap.

“I’ve personally invested about a billion dollars in this project, so having our first money coming back is a good feeling.

“We’ve got to make this a profitable venture, and I think we can make it a profitable venture.”

He also said he himself hoped “to go up in maybe five, six months time”.

Branson has previously admitted he hopes that he’ll be joined by family members on his first flight.

This could include his mother Eve Branson, 94, who has attended Virgin Galactic events in the past.

“We’ll have to see nearer the time,” he said, speaking to The Guardian in 2016.

“The whole family want to go: nephews, nieces, everyone except my wife. Both my children have now got their hands full with babies, so it’s possible that on the initial flight I’ll go up on my own and they’ll go up on subsequent flights.

“We’ll make that decision in six or nine months’ time.”

Unity headed back to Earth on a controlled decent that saw its two test pilots glide toward the planet and land the craft back on the Mojave spaceport runway.

The landing at 4:15pm GMT came almost exactly an hour after launch.

Following the flight, Sir Richard addressed the crowd at the Mojave spaceport with test pilots CJ Sturckow and Mark “Forger” Stucky.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, space is Virgin territory,” he said.

Reaching the edge of space marks a huge step toward Sir Richard’s goal of sending tourists to space, first promised more than a decade ago.

“This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration,” Branson said.

“We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos.”

More than 600 people, including major celebrities Brad Pitt and Lady Gaga, have reserved a £200,000 ride on the six-seat rocket, which is about the size of an executive jet.

Many have had to wait years for their chance to reach space. Development of the firm’s space plane took far longer than expected after a catastrophic test flight killed a Virgin pilot in 2014.

The company didn’t take on another rocket-powered flight until April this year, this time using the second version of its space plane.

The test marks Unity’s fourth rocket-powered flight, and Virgin Galactic admitted there was a chance the launch could go horribly wrong.

“Risk is a valuable part of forward progress and intrinsic in risk is sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days,” Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides said ahead of the launch.

“I think we can authentically say that we’re obviously hoping for a good day tomorrow but the risk of a not good day is still possible.”

Unlike most space launches, Virgin Galactic’s flights are not powered entirely by a rocket.

Instead, Unity is carried toward the edge of space by an enormous mother-ship called White Knight Two.

Once the pair reach 50 miles above Earth’s surface, Unity detached from its parent plane and ignites its rocket engines, shooting into space at a near-vertical angle.

After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, travelling three and a half times the speed of sound, the pilots will shut the engines down.

Six passengers will then have the chance to detach their seatbelts and experience weightlessness for around four minutes, before the plane turns around and returns to Earth.

Following last week’s flight, Virgin Galactic will need only “two or three” more powered tests to prove it can safely take tourists to space, Mr Whitesides said.

Branson noted:”Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally.

“Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder.”

How Virgin Galactic will fly tourists to space

Here’s everything you need to know.

  • Unlike most space flight companies, Virgin Galactic will not use a rocket to launch tourists to space.
  • Instead, its SpaceShipTwo Unity Space plane will head toward space strapped to an enormous carrier plane called White Knight Two.
  • At around 50 miles above the Earth’s surface – the border of outer space as defined by Nasa – Unity will detach from its mothership.
  • Within seconds, the space plane will engage its rocket motor and Unity will fly at a near-vertical angle into suborbital space, hitting three and a half times the speed of sound.
  • After the rocket motor has fired for around a minute, the pilots will safely shut it down, giving riders around four minutes of weightlessness.
  • The pilots will then swivel Unity around and return it to Earth, landing it using a splayed tail system like a shuttlecock to control its re-entry.
  • Unity will then glide back to the ground, landing on a runway like a commercial plane.