February 22, 2016
As SpaceX continues to surge ahead in the consumer race back into space, its competitor, Virgin Galactic is doing its best to get off the launch pad.
Virgin Galactic’s latest initiative – which should be revealed next week – is a second generation of its previous space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo. The rocket is the first to roll out since an accident in 2014, which destroyed its predecessor and killed the pilot.
It was a rough setback for the industry, and Virgin Galactic’s owner, Richard Branson, wisely pulled back out of the spotlight, going back to the drawing board and allowing SpaceX to get some – though not too much – of the positive press.
At the time, Branson told the press he was having second thoughts. “When we had the accident, for about 24 hours we were wondering whether it was worth continuing, whether we should call it a day.”
An investigation into the incident blamed pilot error on the mishap, and Branson said both astronauts and others made it clear that space travel is much too important a dream to abandon after one tragic accident.
Now Branson and Virgin Galactic are back to attempt wresting control of the modern space race away from its competitor. SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry a crew of eight – two pilots and six passengers – and climb to an altitude of about 62 miles. It’s a suborbital flight, but will allow guests to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and get a higher than a bird’s eye view of earth.
The project is still in the testing phase and quite a ways from actually taking consumers into space … but Virgin is officially back in the space business.
Both major competitors have suffered losses in this process to date, and public perception remains hopeful. History proved that going into space the first time was not ever simple or easy, and even when shuttle flights had become relatively routine, accidents could occur.
At this point, though, the best way to re-establish full consumer confidence is to succeed – and succeed in a big way. That will take risk. A factor with which Branson is intimately familiar.