Richard Branson Vows to Upstage Elon Musk in Space

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson says he’s looking for some way to upstage SpaceX’s launch of Falcon Heavy and Starman driving a Red Tesla.

“I was a little bit jealous,” Richard Branson told CNN’s Christine Romans on Tuesday.

Branson, whose Virgin Galactic is racing to launch tourists into space before SpaceX, called Musk’s stunning Falcon Heavy launch “extraordinary.”

“They all just did fantastic,” Branson said at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington. He added that Virgin Galactic is “thinking about what we can do to upstage that one.”

Hey, good luck with that.

It’s hard to imagine anything they could do with SpaceShipTwo or LauncherOne that could upstage what I saw from the beach last week in Florida. The only thing I can compare Falcon Heavy with is a midnight shuttle launch I watched from the press area back in the day.

There is one category where Virgin is definitely ahead: anxiety. Falcon Heavy was at once vastly more spectacular and far less stressful to watch than a flight of SpaceShipTwo. Nobody’s likely to die if a Falcon Heavy launch fails.

You might think that just getting something into space this year would be accomplishment enough for Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic way back in 1999. On the other hand, a game of one-upmanship with Musk is great publicity whatever the outcome.

It’s been more than a month since the seventh glide test of SpaceShipTwo Unity on Jan. 11. I’m expecting the first powered flight of this second vehicle fairly soon. Given what happened the last time, it’s going to be a very stressful thing to watch.

Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit is moving along toward a flight test of LauncherOne around the third quarter of the year. The company recently tweeted about two launch campaign rehearsals it conducted in Mojave.

We’ll see what happens. Maybe this is the year the nation’s first inland spaceport actually has something launched into space from here.  It’s a proud designation that has lost a bit of its luster with the lack of spaceflights over the last 13+ years.