Richard Branson’s eye-watering sum spent on space venture Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson sends message during spaceflight

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Virgin Orbit is preparing to launch a set of smallsats as both a demonstration of the flexibility of its air-launch system and its ability to increase its cadence of launches. The company had hoped to carry out the launch on Wednesday but has since changed the date to Thursday. Its Twitter page said additional windows have been made available in the coming days if needed.

It added that it wanted to “thoroughly validate the system and to check our sensor readings”.

The Boeing 747 aircraft used as the launch platform is scheduled to take off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California between 4pm and 6:30pm EST (9pm and 11:30pm GMT).

The rocket will carry several satellites that will be deployed into an orbit 500 kilometres high, four of these satellites provided by the Defence Department’s Space Test Program (STP), two from Polish smallsat developer SatRevolution and one from Spire.

Virgin Orbit, the name Sir Richard Branson has given to his company’s satellite branch, succeeded in putting its first satellites in space last year after ten payloads were lifted in January 2021.

Sir Richard is hoping to tap into what is a growing market for small, lower-cost satellites.

His wider Virgin Galactic project, which hopes to make commercial spaceflight viable, was founded in 2004.

After many years of planning, studies and tests, he along with a handful of others successfully reached the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, beating the other new space tourism pioneers Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to it.

A billionaire, Sir Richard has pumped a considerable amount of his vast fortune to make Virgin Galactic a success.

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Following his trip, the company announced it would sell $500million (£366million) in new shares.

But, according to Quartz, it is unlikely that Sir Ricard has yet “broke even on his investment in the space start-up”.

The publication said: “While exact figures have not been disclosed, Branson has likely spent $1billion (£733million) or more developing the company’s spacecraft — in 2019, Virgin Galactic said it was losing approximately $190million (£139million) each year.

“The company’s other major shareholder is the UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, which owns just over five percent of the company after investing $280million (£205million) in 2009.”

After the flight, shares of Virgin Galactic jumped as much as 22 percent in premarket trading in the US.

The company resumed ticket sales, with executives saying that fares will now come in at a significantly higher price of $450,000 (£330,000) compared to the original $250,000 (£183,000).

Last year, in its earnings pot, Virgin Galactic revealed that it had made $2.6million (£1.9million) in revenue in November’s quarter.

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However, it netted a total loss of $48million (£32million), down from the $94million (£68million) net loss the company suffered in the second quarter of the year.

Speaking after his spaceflight, Sir Richard said he expected to start offering customers the same opportunity in 2022.

He said: “I’ve had my notebook with me and I’ve written down 30 or 40 little things that will make the experience for the next person who goes to space with us that much better.

“The only way sometimes you can find these little things is to get in a spaceship and go to space and experience it for yourself.”

At the time, some six individuals had already paid deposits for tickets that will cost them up to $250,000 (£180,000).

These are all people who want to reach a height where they can see the sky turn black and marvel at the Earth’s horizon as it curves away into the distance.

The flight will also afford those on board around five minutes of weightlessness during which they will be allowed to float around inside the ship’s cabin.

While now promising to be a success, the Virgin Galactic journey has been a long road for Sir Richard.

After setting up shop in 2004, he believed he could start a commercial service by 2007.

The event saw co-pilot Michael Alsbury die after a catastrophic in-flight “anomaly” saw the plane fail and crash shortly after it separated from the carrier aircraft.

Peter Siebold, the other pilot, was seriously injured.

Alongside him in the new space race is Amazon’s Mr Bezos and SpaceX’s Mr Musk.

While Mr Musk, a friend, travelled to New Mexico to support Sir Richard for the launch, Mr Bezos sent his congratulations for achieving the landmark event.

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