Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico to spend $225 million
Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010
Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

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Virgin Orbit has Raised $1 Billion, Needs $200 Million More

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company needs another $200 million in investment after having already raised $1 billion.

So said the British billionaire during The Wall Street Journal’s recent Tech Live conference. The amount raised is considerably larger than a previous estimate of $700 million.

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Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is Seeking Investors

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is look for investors. The company posted the following notice on its website:

Virgin Orbit LLC, (together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, the “Company”), is exploring a possible transaction and has retained LionTree Advisors LLC (“LionTree”) and Perella Weinberg Partners LP (“PWP”) (together, the “Financial Advisors”).

The website includes a link to a password protected presentation that potential investors can review.

Virgin Orbit is developing LauncherOne, a small-satellite booster that is air launched from a modified Boeing 747 airliner.

Virgin Orbit’s first launch attempt failed in late May when the rocket’s engine stopped about five seconds after it began firing. The company is planning another launch attempt later this year.

The travel-heavy Virgin Group has been struggling to fund its companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Branson Looks to Unprofitable Virgin Galactic to Help Save Reeling Empire

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For nearly 16 years, Richard Branson’s obsession with space travel has been massive money pit for the billionaire’s Virgin Group. Branson’s conglomerate has poured more than $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company without launching a single tourist or satellite into space while generating minuscule revenues and not a single penny of profit.

And yet, by the strange workings of modern finances, this money losing effort will be helping to prop up the Virgin Group, which has been laid low financially by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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Virgin Galactic Supports its Communities During COVID-19 Pandemic

George Whitesides

Message from George Whitesides
Virgin Galactic CEO

All over the globe, we are seeing and feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is one of the most significant crises we have seen in our lifetimes.  Whether it is the brave doctors and nurses working around the clock to help patients, children helping their elderly parents stay safe and fed, or parents and teachers keeping their kids educated while schools are physically closed – we are all in this together and we have a responsibility to help care for one another.

With the impact of COVID-19 mounting every day, our team has worked hard to help tackle this crisis, with an initial focus on the communities we work in.  I am proud of the commitment and initiative of our people at Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, and Virgin Group in helping to support relief efforts.  Led by our in-house flight doctors, our COVID-19 team has been working closely with local hospitals, commercial suppliers, and government authorities to provide help where it is needed most.

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Softbank Writes Down $424.7 Million Investment in OneWeb

Ouch!

Citing a story in the Sunday Telegraph, City A.M. reports that Softbank took a £380 million ($424.7 million) impairment loss on its investment in OneWeb. Softbank is the largest shareholder in the Internet satellite company.

Airbus, Qualcomm and Virgin Group are among other shareholders in the London-based satellite firm, which boasts a valuation of more than $1bn (£823m) and has earned sought-after “unicorn” status.

In addition to the Softbank writedown, some early investors have lost as much as half of the value of their stakes, according to the report

Oneweb, which secured $1.25bn in its latest Softbank-led funding round, has ramped up its plans for satellite production amid competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight Set for Thursday Morning

SpaceShipTwo flies under power for the third time in January 2014. (Credit: Ken Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The preliminaries are over. And now the moment of truth has arrived for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Almost 3.5 years after SpaceShipTwo Enterprise broke up during a flight test on Halloween 2014, the company is scheduled to conduct the first powered flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity later this morning from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The test was preceded by seven glide flights.

I’ll be providing live updates on the flight on Twitter @spacecom.

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Branson’s Autobiography: After SpaceShipTwo’s Loss the Blame Game Began

Nitrous oxide and cabin atmosphere vent from the disintegrating SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 3 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

On the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, a nightmarish vision that had haunted me for months became a real-life disaster in the skies over the Mojave Desert. SpaceShipTwo dropped from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, lit its engine and appeared to explode. Pieces of the space plane then began to rain down all over the desert.

The motor had exploded. Or the nitrous oxide tank had burst. At least that’s what I and two photographers – whose pictures of the accident would soon be seen around the world – thought had occurred as we watched the flight from Jawbone Station about 20 miles north of Mojave.

We really believed we had seen and heard a blast nine miles overhead, the photos appeared to show one, and it was the most plausible explanation at the time.

We were wrong. More than two days after the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that co-pilot Mike Alsbury had prematurely unlocked SpaceShipTwo’s feather system during powered ascent. The ship hadn’t blown up, it had broken up as the twin tail booms reconfigured the vehicle with the engine still burning at full thrust.
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Branson’s Autobiography Part II: A Bad Day at Koehn Lake

SpaceShipTwo breaks up after the premature deployment of its feather system. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 2 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.

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Richard Branson’s Latest Memoir Gets Lost in Space

SpaceShipTwo Enterprise after being released for its final flight on Oct. 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Mogul’s Account of Virgin Galactic Most Revealing for What It Doesn’t Say

Part 1 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

One day in mid-2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Alex Tai wandered into a hangar at Mojave Airport and discovered SpaceShipOne, a  suborbital rocket plane that Scaled Composites’ Founder Burt Rutan was secretly building to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.

The chance discovery would eventually solve separate problems the famed aircraft designer and Tai’s boss, Richard Branson, were trying to solve. Rutan’s spaceship was being funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who wanted to win the prize but had no plans to finance a commercial follow-on spacecraft.

Four years earlier, Branson had registered a new company named Virgin Galactic Airways and set off in search of someone to build a vehicle capable of carrying passengers into space. Those efforts had come to naught until Tai made his discovery at the dusty airport in California’s High Desert.

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Richard Branson Accused of Sexual Assault by Joss Stone Backup Singer

Richard Branson at Spaceport America (Credit: Douglas Messier)

One of Joss Stone’s backup singers, Antonia Jenae, has accused Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson of “sexual assault” in an incident she says occurred on the billionaire’s private Caribbean island in 2010.

“We were in the pool and there was a big, beautiful statue of a goddess there with her boobs out.

“Richard Branson tried to get me to show him my boobs and I said: ‘No!’ I was wearing a one-piece swimsuit and at the time I was very heavy chested.”

[….]

Mum-of-two Antonia said: “We were by the bar and he was saying bye to everyone. He came up to me and put his face in my breasts.
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