On July 11th, 2021, Richard Branson became the first member of the public not associated with a government space programme to fly to space. He pipped fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in doing so, both of whom have publicly expressed similar ambitions. Bezos made a similar expedition just nine days later.

Richard Branson enjoyed the historic trip in a rocket-powered vehicle built by his space tourism company Virgin Galactic. The test flight, the firm’s first with full crew onboard, safely reached and returned from the edge of space. The descent was broadcasted live online, with Branson labelling the trip an ”experience of a lifetime.”

The flight took off from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America on a stretch of desert in New Mexico. A carrier ship took the spacecraft to 50,000 feet before it was released and rocketed to the edge of space, allowing passengers to experience weightlessness for around four minutes.

It’s a moment that’s been a long time coming for Branson, who set up his space exploration company back in 2004 but suffered a major mishap ten years later when a test flight crashed, killing one of two pilots.

The space tourism race hots up

Branson’s successful expedition is a major boost in the race to offer tourists commercial flights to space.

A select few companies including Blue Origin and SpaceX, owned by Bezos and Musk, are also developing plans to take paying customers out of this world once proven safe to do so. Talks of a rivalry may be played down by Branson, who claims he’s dreamt of visiting outer space since childhood, but the flight still represents a significant triumph.

Virgin Galactic has several more test flights planned before it opens the journey up to paying customers, when one seat on the vehicle is expected to cost around $250,000. Costs could fall marginally if the market successfully expands – though it’s likely that space tourism will remain reserved for the elite.

Richard Branson

How Branson built his empire

While space tourism may seem obscene to some, Branson’s story will have inspired business owners across the world who hold ambitions of expansion. Funding is half the battle of course – but a small business loan could be the catalyst for any promising company to grow.

The Virgin brand was born when Richard set up a music record mail-order service in 1970, before opening shops, setting up a studio and signing artists. Virgin soon expanded globally as Branson broadened his areas of interest to gaming, air travel and beyond.

Today, Virgin Galactic is one exciting arm of Branson’s business empire, which spans multiple sectors including travel, health, entertainment, telecoms and financial services.

And with the first successful flight in the books, Virgin has pulled ahead of its competitors in the race to space.