Branson Says Commercial Flights Only “Months Away” as Ticket Sales Near 700

Credit: Douglas Messier
Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson says he is only “months away” from launching suborbital space tourism flights aboard SpaceShipTwo:

Sir Richard Branson has claimed his latest venture Virgin Galactic is just “months away” from launching its ambitious space programme….

So far about 700 people have bought tickets, including Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Hawking.

“We hope to transform the way people live,” he said. “Only 500 people have been up in space so far and we believe we can do that in our first year. We also want to pioneers planes that could eventually transport people from London to Australia in two hours.

“Stephen Hawking wants us to colonise the moon or Mars … that could eventually happen. As could a hotel in space.”

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  • dr

    I think that Richard Branson is making these claims on “months away” as a way of trying to attract further customers to the venture, by creating a hype prior to the launch of commerical flights and also to pressurize his teams into finishing the development as quickly as possible. I don’t think that the dates that he gives are really meant to be taken literally.

  • Douglas Messier

    I agree. My sources tell me that the nitrous oxide/rubber hybrid they’re flying with isn’t a solution to their engine problems. It doesn’t have enough thrust to get SpaceShipTwo above the Karmen line. It’s not even clear that it has been test fired on the ground to full duration yet, despite claims to the contrary.

    The sources say there have been several ongoing alternative engine development programs for the last couple of years by Scaled and Virgin Galactic. Those include alternative hybrid and liquid engines. I saw tests of hybrid alternatives in December and January out on one of the stands. In May, Scaled also did a test of a nitrous oxide/nylon engine that came apart and wrecked a test stand.

    Unless all these sources are somehow wrong, Virgin really isn’t very close to flying in space. At least not with what they’ve been using in flight test. And that will lead to a really big problem sometime next year when Virgin can’t deliver on all these promises that Branson and his subordinates are making. They won’t be able to hide the problems from customers, investors and the media any longer. And it’s going to be a really big mess if that happens.

    I hope I’m wrong. I want to see these guys succeed. It would be good for commercial space and good for Mojave and good for everyone. Their success would be the industry’s success. But, I’ve been getting assurances from these guys for four years that everything is moving along and the engine is fine and on track, and then I find out otherwise. And I continue to hear of these problems from people who have been correct about things in the past.

    I find it deeply frustrating as a writer trying to cover this field. I need to be able to trust what companies are saying. And I need to convey what’s actually happening to my readers. It’s been hard to do that in this case.

  • dr

    I’m not a journalist, or much of a writer, but I think that you just have to tell both stories. Then you can be honest about trying to represent the positions of the various parties.
    An analogy might be writing about a political debate. You wouldn’t try to work out which side is “correct” or has a better quality empirical evidence set on their side. You would just say that the Democrats think this and that the Republicans think this.
    It sounds to me, like you are trying to “tell the truth” of the situation with Virgin Galactic, and aiming to achieve that, by reconciling different pieces of information from different sources. Maybe that just isn’t possible in this case, due to confusion or uncertainty or marketing spin, or some combination thereof.

  • SilveradoCyn

    Months away is pretty vague – Single Digit, Two Digit, Three Digit numbers could be used to describe how many months away the service might be…

  • therealdmt

    True — it could be thousands of months!

    Still, when I hear “months”, it implies less than a year. Something to be more properly measured by months, rather than years. I guess that could go up to 18 months? Obviously though, it can mean pretty much anything over 60 days and still be true! Branson’s a good marketeer.

    But as Doug said, if he doesn’t come through, eventually he’ll face a backlash.

  • Dennis Stolwijk

    “I find it deeply frustrating as a writer trying to cover this field. I
    need to be able to trust what companies are saying. And I need to convey
    what’s actually happening to my readers. It’s been hard to do that in
    this case.”

    How do you figure? I mean, you can still relay what the companies are telling you and yet in the same article you could also mention the information/rumors that you shared with us in your comment!

    In fact, the first 3 paragraphs should be in your article imho (with a tiny bit of rewriting) and not in a comment below it!

  • Dennis Stolwijk

    Well, so far they have been ‘months away’ for years now! I mean, every year we hear that ‘operational flights could begin early next year’. This it just the next iteration of that statement.

  • Dennis Stolwijk

    Yeah, somehow I REALLY doubt that! I mean, I am not a ‘hardcore’ follower of their efforts… but as a general space enthusiast I get enough information along the line to know that such a statement is complete nonsense.

    If you would just look at HOW LONG they have been doing drop & glide flights testing SS2… and now there have been 2 powered flights with 16 and 20 seconds burns, with a couple of months in between them no less. I really don’t see them powering up to above the Karman line in the next powered flight and then declare they are going operational!

    I think we can expect a period of powered test flights perhaps as long as they have been doing glide flights… maybe a little shorter, but not much!

  • Douglas Messier

    You’re probably right about that. And they’re not rumors.