How Many Taxpayer-Funded Spaceports Does Richard Branson Need?

How Many Taxpayer-Funded Spaceports Does Richard Branson Need?

Space tourism sounds pretty fun, if exorbitantly expensive. The ticket to ride is far from the only pricy thing about it. Building a spaceport for launches and returns costs hundreds of millions. So why does Sir Richard Branson now want to build one in the UK, right after finishing one in America — which isn't even sending folks to low orbit yet? The Virgin Galactic chairman is aiming to build a spaceport in the UK that will launch private citizens into low orbit for $US250,000, let them float weightlessly while admiring our fragile planet for a few minutes, then fall safely back down to terra firma. And it's no wonder folks will have to fork over that fat price tag: Spaceport America, the 18,000-acre commercial spaceport in New Mexico and the first in the world, cost over $US200 million and sapped the state of 108 million taxpayer dollars.

But it makes some sense that renowned billionaire Branson wants to cast his net as wide as possible. Depending on how successful space tourism gets, Virgin Galactic will need at least one spaceport on each continent to attract local space tourists. It's a smart business move: Besides Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk's SpaceX (which is also supposed to use Spaceport America), there are other space tourism efforts, like Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, which is taking over its own launchpad in Cape Canaveral. Other players are going to need transit hubs far and wide, and Branson needs to keep clip with his fellow quadrillionaire entrepreneur rivals who have their own final frontier ambitions.

And yet, despite being completed for nearly five years, Spaceport America hasn't sent any space tourists up to the heavens yet. In fact, New Mexicans have thought that the whole thing was a waste of money — the facility is even being rented out to shoot car commercials to stay in the black.

Furthermore, in 2014, Virgin Galactic suffered a a tragic loss when one of its pilots died when the suborbital craft SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave desert, while the other pilot was badly injured. In February, the company is scheduled announce a replacement spacecraft that will include engineering that will prevent such disasters.

Despite both financial and safety worries swirling around commercial space travel, the British government is on board with Branson's latest building plans: The Independent says that a future Virgin Galactic spaceport in the UK is "being considered by the Government". And whether it's with Virgin or not, the country wants a commercial spaceport open by 2018.

[The Independent]

Image: Mark Davis/Getty Images

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    I think it's a scam. Tax minimisation or something.

    It's been going for 15 years with not much to show for it. It also have these weird 'public announcements' that really don't show much.

      Its better than that. While govt's whinge about corporates not paying tax, they give Branson $108Million for his personal play-thing, wow.

      How can we get on the gravy-train, I think the buy-in is several hundred million dollars, out of the grasp of mortal Tax-Payers.Money Invested internally in a business (get that, "business") is automatically out of the tax loop.

      All luxury purchases of "smart" people are (should be) business capital investments (dumb rich people spend their own money, or go into debt for non-productive notassets), with write-offs allowable down the line. PS even Branson's "personal" home is a business venture, you are welcome as his friend, if you can afford the party.

    After seeing the spectacular failure of Richards last attempt, i can see why hes investing in real estate...always expect a bigger slice of profit on land rather than pie in the sky!

    Last edited 07/01/16 2:24 pm

    Virgin Galactic will never send people to low orbit. It may send people sub-orbital, past the Karman line into "space", but it is not remotely capable of achieving orbit with it's current or planned hardware.

      Air launch satellites is where he thinks the money is.

    For about $245,000 less you can hop on a Zero G plane flight and take a picture of the Earth to look at while you're floating in the plane ;-)

    Last edited 08/01/16 3:52 pm

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