Will Virgin Galactic ever lift off?

It’s taken 17 years, with many setbacks and some deaths, and still Richard Branson’s space mission is yet to launch

Richard Branson was running almost 15 years late. But as we rode into the Mojave desert on the morning of 12 December 2018, he was feeling upbeat and untroubled by the past. He wore jeans, a leather jacket and the easy smile of someone used to being behind schedule.

Branson hadn’t exactly squandered the past 15 years. He’d become a grandfather, moved to a private island in the Caribbean and expanded Virgin’s business empire into banking, hotels, gyms, wedding dresses and more. But he was staking his legacy on Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company he formed in 2004. The idea was to build a rocketship with seats for eight – two pilots, six passengers – that would be carried aloft by a mothership, released about 45,000ft in the air and then zoom just beyond the lower limit of space, float around for a few minutes, before returning to Earth. He was charging $200,000 a seat.

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