Richard Branson’s 17-Year Journey Into Space: How The Virgin Founder Became First Billionaire To Fly Own Rocket

Spaceport America, a giant facility in the desert near Truth Or Consequences (New Mexico), was buzzing with energy. The state hopes it will become a destination for space tourism. Even though it wasn’t yet morning, there was a DJ providing music to entertain the crowd, which included celebrities and moguls as well as many others who’d purchased tickets years ago to be able to take their space trip. Stephen Colbert hosted the live stream online, and Khalid, a singer, entertained guests with a new song.

Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve flew from the spaceport shortly after 10:30 ET. The plane carried VSS Unity and its passengers. The Unity, powered by its rocket engines, was dropped from the aircraft at 45,000 feet about 50 minutes later. It then began its ascent to space. After reaching the apogee, the spacecraft began its descent back to Earth. The pilot carefully glided the craft back to its landing spot. At 11:40 am, the soft landing took place without any engine power.
Branson, who had just flown to space, said Virgin Galactic was the best spaceline for Earth. “We’re here for space to be more accessible to all, and we’re planning to turn the next wave of dreamers into astronauts.”

Richard Branson’s successful spaceflight took them over 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. It also allowed them to feel weightlessness for 8 minutes. This wasn’t the first spaceflight by a billionaire. However, it was the first billionaire to do so in his spacecraft. This was the culmination of a 17-year-old adventure.

Mojave Aerospace Ventures won the Ansari X-Prize. This prize offered $10 million to anyone that could create a reusable spacecraft capable of making two trips into space in 14 days: Burt Rutan, cofounder of Microsoft, designed and built the spacecraft that beat 25 other teams. Soon after the win, the company licensed its technology out to Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic. He plans to use the technology to construct a larger spacecraft that can be used for commercial space tourism.

The company began selling tickets to its flights within a few days of its founding. Prices were set at $200,000 per person (which was later increased to $250,000 by 2013). Although Branson was always ambitious and promised commercial operations would begin in 2009, there were a few setbacks along the way that delayed the company from reaching the stars. Three people died, and several others were seriously injured during a rocket engine test in 2007. Three people were killed in a rocket engine test, while three more were critically injured. The VSS Enterprise, the company’s first spacecraft, was destroyed by a rocket engine test.
However, the company did not stop moving forward. In 2016, the company launched its second spacecraft, VSS Unity. Branson was taken to space by it. Testing began in 2016. In spring 2018, Unity made its first powered flight and, in December 2018, it successfully entered space. Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company, became the first publicly-traded company. It merged with Social Capital Hedosophia, founded in December 2018 by Chamath Palihapitiya (Reddit stock guru), who serves as Chairman. (The stock closed on Friday at $49.20 and is still steady in after-hours trade.

Sunday’s flight was the second of a series that will test the company for commercial passengers. They are expected to begin flying in 2022 if all goes according to plan. Branson and all four of his crew were on the flight, working during the journey. Sirisha, the company’s vice president of research operations experimented on behalf of Florida. As chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses supervised the testing, Colin Bennett, lead operations engineer, evaluated cabin equipment. Sir Richard? His job was not to judge the flight experience but the preparation and training.

These evaluations are expected to be completed soon. Virgin Galactic received its license extension from the FAA in June. Customers can now fly on the spacecraft. This is a significant regulatory milestone. The company still has over 600 experiences to complete. However, Branson’s other businesses, such as Virgin Airlines, are still in the early stages of their success. Morgan Stanley has just released a report that estimates Virgin Galactic won’t generate positive free cash flow before 2028. However, the company anticipates it will see revenues of around $1.3 billion by 2030.

Branson’s 17-year old dream is his actual victory.
He stated, while aboard the spacecraft, that it was the best experience of his life. “And now I look down on a beautiful place. We are all proud of the creation of such a stunning spaceport. Thank you to Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard, consistent work.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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