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What (not) on Earth happened to Virgin Galactic?

UNITED KINGDOM | Tuesday, 4 December 2018 | Views [19]

There is scarcely any field that billionaire businessman and founder of Virgin, Richard Branson, hasn’t invested in. From transport, to health, to broadband, to music, the Virgin brand is iconic, and it is a central part of British society, culture, and identity. Almost everyone in the country could probably name at least one Virgin service off the top of their heads - that is how ingrained Branson’s company is in modern Britain, and he is easily one of most successful Brits to have ever lived, owning over 400 companies in total, and being worth over £4 billion.

 

In 2004, Richard Branson shocked the world by unveiling his plans to send commercial rockets carrying tourists in to space, to allow anyone with the ability to pay, the chance to experience the oddity and thrill of being in space. It came as such as a surprise because it was, at the time, such an audacious announcement. Nobody had ever tried to privately fund space travel before, and many were wary that such a daring plan wouldn’t succeed.

 

Of course, we’re now 14 years later and there are a myriad of companies fighting to be the first to crack the secret of commercial flights into space, including, alongside Branson’s Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins. It seems that virgin has some very stiff competition and it will be a hard race to win. Except, there’s a small fact I’ve omitted which was that Virgin Galactic initially promised to get the first vessel in space by 2007 - a date long since gone. And with none of the major launches scheduled for this year being of Virgin Galactic flights, one must ask what happened to Virgin Galactic? Why has it missed its goals so badly? And why is it now tailing in the space race, despite their early lead?

 

Annual Promises

There have been numerous occasions on which Branson or a senior Virgin Galactic figure has promised the first full flight in a year’s, or 18 month’s, time, for it never to materialise. Why not? Who knows. One senior staff member has stated that the company has transformed drastically since 2004, when it was, according to him, a marketing company. But these constant promises, and a failure to deliver, have led to the public getting tired of Virgin Atlantic, since nothing they ever promise really happens. Although, certainly the company was set back by a fatal accident during a test flight in 2014 when the vehicle just fell apart due to an anomaly.

 

Emerging Competitors

One of the biggest challenges that has faced Virgin Galactic in recent years has been the emergence of new brands and companies tussling to deliver commercial space travel first. The problem for Virgin Galactic is that these companies are getting results, and taking part in bold stunts - such as Elon Musk strapping a Tesla car to the top of a recent SpaceX shuttle which was successfully launched. Meanwhile, Virgin has been out of the news on space travel for several years and it doesn’t look set to climb back in now, with more SpaceX tests to come, and Blue Origin stating they believe they will launch the first flight later this year. It has been a tough time for Virgin Galactic, who fired the starting pistol on this space race, and have since been forgotten about and replaced, and it doesn’t look set to get any easier for them any time soon.

Tags: virgin galactic

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