Richard Branson Wants to Fly on SpaceShipTwo on Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Richard Branson with the pilots of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson says he wants to fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo as America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” the head of the Virgin group said on the sidelines of an event to honor Virgin Galactic at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Whether a SpaceShipTwo flight on the anniversary of the moon landing will be seen as a fitting tribute to America’s greatest achievement in space or merely a giant PR distraction is uncertain.

Whether they will be able to make that date is equally unclear. SpaceShipTwo Unity is still undergoing flight tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Branson told AFP the next flight is set for Feb. 20, weather permitting.) And practically all of his previous predictions for the start of commercial flights have been proven wrong over the past 14.5 years.

Branson plans to be on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight, which will take place from Spaceport America in New Mexico. His son, Sam, and other passengers are set to be aboard the flights. Perhaps he will take Apollo 11 moon walker Buzz Aldrin, who just turned 89, along with him.

Branson told AFP that Virgin Galactic costs $35 million per month or $420 million per year to operate. He previously estimated he has spent $1 billion to $1.3 billion on the SpaceShipTwo program since it was announced in 2004.

Virgin recently laid off about 40 employees from Virgin Galactic and its sister company, The Spaceship Company.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Go go go…

  • ThomasLMatula

    If so then they are going to need to pick up the pace of flight testing for it.

  • Paul_Scutts

    The cost of the operation would not have been linear over the years, Thomas, it would have ramped up considerably over the past couple of years. But, I know what you mean, Richard Branson is known to slightly exaggerate on occasion. 🙂 Regards, Paul.

  • ThomasLMatula

    True, but still it just doesn’t add up. The figure of $35 million a year rather than a month would make more sense, so it’s probable he just confused them. Remember, he’s not like Elon Musk who keeps close track of both the financial and technical aspects of his business. Sir Richard Brandon leaves those “little” details to others and just uses his skills to promote it to investors, customers and the public in general. It’s way it was so easy for him to fall for the Ansari X-Prize and Burt Rutan.

    But using the figure of $1 billion spent to date on designing and building SpaceshipTwo it is hard to see how it will be anything but a huge financial failure. There are around 600 customers left for it. Assuming they paid $250,000 a ticket and you only have a total project revenue of $150 million on that billion dollar investment. If you assume that 80% of that $200,000 is able to be applied towards recovery of the research and development you would need 5,000 customers to breakeven. Probably a more realistic guess is 6,000 to 7,000 as you would need to invest in additional SS2 and WK2 to carry that many in a reasonable timeframe. It’s hard to see how this will not be the one of biggest financial failures in history.

  • Panice

    You left out the revenue side. The SpaceShipOne Project made a huge profit by licensing intellectual property developed along the way. Virgin Galactic might be doing the same now.

  • Vladislaw

    BUT .. There is nothing like putting your money and OPM where your mouth is .. smiles
    I just hope it flies… hundreds of celebs fly .. all their twitter posts go viral and space flight at least appears to be .. available for the masses..

  • Vladislaw

    You do not fore see a fleet of these? Will it be easier to set this up at additional spaceports or setting up a Blue Origin system?

  • Vladislaw

    2019 should be a real year to remember .. Both commercial crew flights.. WhiteKnight & SS2, Blue Origin .. Sierra Nevada … on and on . a LOT of great flights in store for space junkies this year…

  • ThomasLMatula

    If the demand for it is there, but that is the question. And we will see the results when it enters commercial service.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Thomas, I posted the following comment upon The Space Review’s article “Blue’s Big Year Ahead” on the 28th of January;

    “There has been some speculation about, and comparisons drawn between, VG’s SS2 suborbital ride and that of BO’s NS. I don’t see them being so much competitive as being complimentary. They will be, IMO, very different experiences. NS, more or less, straight up and down and all over in ten minutes or so. SS2, tucked under White Night, released, a real kick-ass ride up to the black and then glide with banking and turning, then, landing back on good old terra firma, the whole thing taking well over an hour. NS customers will start to relax when they are descending under the mains, whilst SS2 customers probably won’t start to relax until the vehicle gets below 100mph upon the runway. Personally, I’d like to experience both. But, if I had to choose, then, by adrenaline rush, it would be SS2 for sure.”

    There are a lot of potential customers for both these sub-orbital rides and, IMO, so long as VG can keep their act together, their SS2 rides will undoubtedly be a financial success.

    Regards, Paul.

  • redneck

    I could see sub-orbital traffic taking a serious revenue hit if orbital rides come under a million anytime soon. A week or two in orbit vs an up and down could easily skim the top players at five times the money. Either sub-orbital prices will likely come way down or it will have to be very attractive to the market segment that can afford one but not the other. Suborbital service ten years ago would have been a far different story.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It’s not his money, it is money from various sovereign funds and the state of New Mexico. Sir Richard Branson never invests very much of his own funds in any of the Virgin brands, he gets others to invest instead.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Really? And what was the intellectual property that they able to license that was greater than the $25 million Paul Allen spent on it?

  • ThomasLMatula

    Good analysis, but it is important to note that there never have been more than a few hundred showing financial interest even back in the days of Gary Hudson’s Phoenix design. So it’s questionable where the extra 5,000 or so customers needed to break even will emerge from. A lot will depend on the quality of their experience and how well they operate the SS2 when it enters service.

  • Panice

    I never learned what the IP was. I heard about it in 2004 either from Burt or one of the people close to him. The word was that Scaled Composites was, in percentage terms, Paul Allen’s highest returning investment that year.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Given how minor it was to his other investments that is not saying much. Most likely it was just the deal with VG.

  • Panice

    The point is that Scaled Composites made money and VG could be making some money to offset costs.

  • patb2009

    if memory serves, Virgin Galactic licensed all the IP from SS1, including White Knight, SS1, RM1 and ops. Perhaps they should have done a clean sheet.

  • patb2009

    who is VG licensing too?

  • Vladislaw

    OPM – other people’s money

  • Vladislaw

    I would think there is at least 20000 keeping up with the jones’s types .. with seeing 10 mil sweet 16 bashes .. 1.2 million for a grad present for 6 is not unreasonable ..

  • Stu

    Doesn’t seem likely you would ever get up to 20,000 pax. A vehicle would fail before that, and that would be the end of it, realistically.

  • Vladislaw

    So if someone dies in a car people will stop riding in cars?
    So if someone dies in a motorcycle people will stop riding motorcycles?
    So if someone dies in a airplane people will stop riding in planes?
    So if someone dies in a helicopter people will riding in choppers?
    So if someone dies on a boat people will stop riding in boats?
    So if someone dies on a bicycle people will stop riding bikes?
    So if
    So if
    So if

  • Stu

    Those are absolutely awful analogues for a $250,000 one-off joyride. You are really comparing the risk/reward of car usage (a long term activity that is largely un avoidable) with a flight on an experimental aircraft? Really?

  • Vladislaw

    Transportation is transportation… regardless of cost.. name me a mechanical form of transportation that has NEVER killed people… they all do .. a risk we live with .. and these extreme destination hedge funders will be lining up for these joy rides if for nothing else but to say look at me look what I did .. In relative terms the first early adopters are always paying a huge premium for access to new transportation tech ..

  • Stu

    “name me a mechanical form of transportation that has NEVER killed people” Why? What has that got to do with it?

    Every other form of transport you mentioned, including bicycles has actual utility, rather than being purely for fun. None of the cost $250,000 for a ride, and the risks of all of them are massively lower than for a VG flight. Can you really not see the difference?

    The kinds of people who can afford to pay for their kids to do this with small change, are the kind that don’t want to risk their kids being killed, should the risks prove to be high. Let’s not forget, out of a couple of dozen flights, one ended up as a pile of smoking wreckage. The fact that there are so few people signed up to this does not speak well for it ever making money. That said, I wish them luck.

    There are going to be safer, better vehicles within the next few years. People with the means will choose those, instead.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Of course Scaled Composites made money, it was Paul Allen writing the check to build it and I am sure they didn’t do it for costs, but for a profit. Made bigger when he gave them the prize money as well.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, The type of folks that have the money for tickets at those prices also have the money to hire really good lawyers as well.

  • ThomasLMatula

    It already killed four of the workers on the project, but its different when you kill the super rich with access to lawyers for revenge.

  • Vladislaw

    true but that doesn’t kill the system .. it only kills that corporate entity .. a piece of paper .. the assets get sold .. a company and product renamed .. and back to business.. car , plane boats .. have all killed rich people .. but they are still all here ..

  • Vladislaw

    Gosh .. remember roller coasters? they were such fun .. until someone died .. then .. they just disappeared..

  • Stu

    Oh dear, you really do struggle with the basic concepts of risk, don’t you? Whilst the consequence of a roller coaster incident may be high, the likelihood is very, very low. Over the years, several have been taken out of service or heavily modified after accidents, mind. Last year a log flume that killed 4 people in Australia was permanently retired, and the park has yet to recover visitor numbers. Any more irrelevant and poorly thought out arguments you care to throw out? You seem almost like a shill.