Billionaire Branson gears up to take small step for entrepreneurs in space


Billionaire Richard Branson will finally aim to keep 17 years of promises and take a seat on his own Virgin Galactic rocket plane, the VSS on Sunday Unit, as he climbs 55 miles to the edge of space for his first full crew test flight.

The launch, if successful, will make history in the burgeoning field of space entrepreneurship, and help bolster Branson’s credibility in an industry in which some attendees did not always believe he was going. deliver on the repetitive promises that have surrounded Virgin Galactic since 2004, and more recently, Virgin Orbit, the smallest satellite launch startup that emerged from Galactic in 2017.

Branson has charted a very different course than his fellow space-focused billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Its Virgin Orbit successfully delivered its second satellite payload to low earth orbit last month. Virgin Galactic’s launch on Sunday could justify the large sums Branson spent on Orbit and Galactic during a time when its entire business empire was brought to its knees by the Covid lockdown, and the subsequent stranding of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet since. March 2020.

Risk, reward

Will Whitehorn is the current president of UK Space, the industry’s trade association. From 2004 to 2010, Whitehorn was President of Virgin Galactic before handing over the reins to George Whitesides, who stepped down in March 2021. Whitehorn’s career at Branson began in 1987, working within the Virgin Group over time. as it develops.

Whitehorn says Branson’s “recklessness” in undertaking centrifuge training and “shooting parabolas” in a MIG plane gave him a different perspective on how to approach space entrepreneurship. “And on top of that, he had a vision,” he says, adding, “he sees simplicity in complex things – because he’s dyslexic – in a way that many others don’t. “

Whitehorn says that for Branson, Virgin Galactic is all about “regularizing space” and “making the area outside the atmosphere not something to worry about.” While there is an element of competition between Virgin Orbit and SpaceX in small satellite launch space, and between Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin in space tourism, Branson is motivated by the commercial potential of both offerings, despite the competition. billionaires, and the high cost of failure.

The real business opportunity for Galactic, Whitehorn says, will “eventually” come from “fast hypersonic flight out of the atmosphere” and the prospect of a new way to travel from New York to London in just a few hours. But for now, it helps to just get up in space. “These are NASA scientists capable of ascending [to suborbital space] with their experiences. . . and actually combine molecules within six minutes of zero-g they’ll get. All of these systems allow for an industrial revolution that has to happen for one simple reason: if we can’t develop industrially outside the atmosphere, we’re absolutely screwed, ”he said, winking. to the many green environmental reasons that are starting to emerge. for space entrepreneurship.

Whitehorn describes Branson as “a very concerned environmentalist” who wants “to industrialize outside the atmosphere.” (That’s despite its stake in a big polluting airline, Virgin Atlantic.) “Competition isn’t a bad thing. I think if Richard can get away with it. . . [and] beat jeff [Bezos] in space, good luck to him. Jeff won’t want it.

However, a Tweeter from Blue Origin on Friday suggests otherwise, implicitly criticizing Galactic’s offer for failing to reach the “internationally recognized Kármán line” – the defined boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, and suggesting that Branson’s windows are small, while Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have “the largest windows in space. In a now-deleted tweet, Nicola Pecile, a test pilot at Virgin Galactic, described the tweet as a” pi contest ** ing “which was” childish “and” really embarrassing “.

Chad Anderson, managing partner of Space Capital, a start-up venture capital fund, says Forbes than for Virgin Galactic, having claimed to be about to launch, “Later this year, every year since 2007 ”, there is“ additional pressure to be a public company ”. He says new Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier from Disney “likely contributed to a more disciplined testing program that got them to this point.”

Anderson defends the value that entrepreneurial competition has brought to space commerce. “[I] find it fascinating that Galactic and Blue [Origin] have each been working towards this moment for 20 years and they are both on the verge of achieving their ambitions at the same time. Competition is the engine of progress and we are witnessing it today. “

As of market close on Thursday, Branson’s estimated net worth had grown from nearly $ 450 million in one day to $ 6 billion, spurred by excitement and a change in sentiment over his biggest asset, Virgin Galactic . Virgin Galactic shares have risen nearly 20% since July 1, when Branson announced he would be heading to space on July 11.


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