So you’ve been to space — now what?
That must be what Richard Branson is thinking today after he “won” the billionaire space race on Sunday (aside: At least England won something on Sunday).
After years of trying — and jumping the queue to get over the line before Jeff Bezos goes up in seven days time — Branson got his Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) ship outside the atmosphere yesterday.
It was the first of two test flights planned before the company looks to open this up to the public. The rich public, that is. It’s going to cost $250,000 USD to take the ride to nowhere. That’s a lot of money for what essentially is a ramped up roller coaster. You are only in space for about three minutes before you go back to Earth.
Back to Earth is exactly what Branson must be feeling today. The truth is that this is all a bit of an ego boost. When you’re a billionaire it’s hard to impress other billionaires and a deep rooted desire to impress people is part of the job description of being a billionaire.
Branson had his moment. Bezos sent his congratulations, Elon Musk went over to watch. He got his astronaut wings. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream.
So, now what? It’s not like he can realistically go much further — although there are plans to take a commercial rocket to the International Space Station soon, there really is a limit to what can be done in the immediate future. It’s got to be a little depressing, you’d imagine.
All that’s really left to do is to actually turn Virgin Galactic into a viable business. And, that seems much more challenging and far less exciting than going for a ride in your rocket.
Commercial space flights will one day be a viable business. I’m not sure it’s going to be in Branson’s lifetime though. It might not even be in Musk’s.
The market seems to more or less agree. There wasn’t a massive bump in Virgin Galactic’s price with the news that they were going into space. It actually fell a bit last week, from a high of $52.79 to close at $49.20. It’s a long play, most likely.
I’m sure there will be a burst of people initially looking to experience weightlessness, but a quarter of a million is a lot of money. Maybe not for billionaires, but mere millionaires are going to give it a long thought before slapping it down.
And, it’s a case of diminishing returns as well. The more people that do it the less cool it will be. You might as well just buy another sports car with your $250k if you need to spend it that badly.
The future of commercial space flights will likely be far duller than joy rides into near-space. Think more supply chain and less sightseeing. And, that’s a few years off too.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that they are doing this. It will be useful down the road.
It’s just not that day yet and now that the race is over the hard — and boring — work begins.