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Virgin Galactic to lose funding from its billionaire founder

Richard Branson on a Virgin Galactic test flight in 2021.
Richard Branson on a Virgin Galactic test flight in 2021. Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson has said he will no longer put any money into Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company that he founded in 2004.

The surprise decision, first reported by the Financial Times, caused the company’s share value to drop sharply on Monday.

Branson told the Times: “We don’t have the deepest pockets after COVID, and Virgin Galactic has got $1 billion, or nearly.”

He added that as things stand, Virgin Galactic should have “sufficient funds to do its job on its own.”

Virgin Galactic flew its first commercial passengers to the edge of space in June and has gone on to fly a further four additional commercial flights. The most recent one took place at the start of last month, but just a few days later, the company announced it was reducing its workforce and suspending commercial flights for 18 months from next year in an effort to save money while it develops a larger aircraft capable of carrying more passengers to space than the current vehicle, which can transport up to six paying passengers at a time.

Before the suspension, Virgin Galactic plans to fly its sixth commercial mission in January, followed by a seventh in the second quarter and possibly an eighth in the middle of 2024. Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said that Virgin Galactic will focus on higher revenue opportunities for the remaining flights. It means that private passengers could be asked to pay a premium rate of up to $1 million, more than double that of the current seat price of $450,000.

The new, larger vehicle, called Delta, should be ready in 2026, and Virgin Galactic says it has adequate funds to continue operating until then. At that point, the plan is for Delta to begin commercial flights, attracting new revenue in the process.

However, the FT’s report says that some analysts believe Virgin Galactic will need to look for additional funding from investors, possibly in 2025, a year before Delta is ready.

The Virgin Galactic flight experience involves a rocket-powered flight close to the Kármán line, an area about 62 miles above Earth that’s generally regarded as where space begins. Passengers can enjoy stunning views of Earth and a few minutes of weightlessness inside the cabin before gliding back for a runway landing.

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Trevor Mogg
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