While Virgin Galactic failed on its last flight in December 2020, the intentions of Richard Branson’s company are now clearer. In a brief statement, he said he wanted to send his rocket “to the moon” as soon as possible. In addition, the new type of rocket plane has to be tested, which should therefore take off this Saturday, if the weather conditions allow it of course. This test flight is expected to be conducted by two pilots and carries payloads from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. The missile is expected to reach 50,000 feet, or nearly 15 kilometers. An altitude very similar to that of the spaceship during its various test flights.
This flight should have taken place last February, but was postponed by Virgin Galactic for the first time until this May 22, which could help the American company in severe financial difficulties. In fact, that test flight announcement comes just days after the company’s quarterly results were released in New Mexico, and they’re not good to say the least. With losses of nearly $ 55 million, this first quarter of 2021 shows, without much surprise, all of the struggles the company is struggling to find a place in the space industry. While it seemed way ahead of its direct competitors a few years ago, it is being caught up and even overtaken here by SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are not yet fully reliant on space tourism as the company does. From Branson.
Promise still promise?
Given these growing difficulties, Saturday’s flight could be lifesaving in several ways. If things go as planned, it could push Virgin Galactic back into space tourism and reassure increasingly cautious investors. If Saturday’s flight seems believable, the timing is still in question.
The big bodies like NASA or ESA always announced their test weeks, even months, in advance. But New Space has shaken those traditions. Carried by a SpaceX that doesn’t even wait for the FAA agreements to fly its spaceship, the announcements are always late, and thus Virgin Galactic’s, barely 72 hours before the event, not surprising or little.
It must also be said that those familiar with Richard Branson’s business know that English is capable of many promises. Without keeping them all for all of this. In 2008 he promised that suborbital tourist flights would take place “in the next three years”. We’re still waiting. In 2009 Stephen Hawking announced that he had planned a suborbital flight with Branson’s company. But beyond those words that make all astronomy enthusiasts dream, nothing concrete. To end this non-exhaustive list of Branson’s broken promises, the musical group Muse announced in 2011 that they would “soon” go into space to be the first artists in history to make the journey into orbit.
What future for Virgin Galactic?
While promises are common at Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s business could also be hit hard if the flight takes place on Saturday and is successful. The company’s rocket plane is a UFO in the New Space world, and this type of prototype remains very exotic, which makes it more valuable to the American company. Richard Branson wants to play his card with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and put his company in a three-way duel for control of space tourism in the coming years. Today, if he’s known more for his broken promises than his actions, the businessman remains passionate about space, maybe a little too enthusiastic, but who knows where he wants his business going.
This Saturday’s flight is therefore crucial in many ways. Branson, if not to be pitied, is out of luck with these competitors, and investors are the lifeblood of his business. Failure this weekend would add to the recent disappointing results and could convince business angels to abandon the ship and sink the latter at the same time.