You never know where an idea will lead

Richard Branson at Spaceport America
Virgin Orbit
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 6 July 2021

You never quite know where an idea will lead. As a child, I wanted to go to space. When that did not look likely for my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could make it happen. 17 years after started Virgin Galactic, I am now days away from becoming an astronaut, testing the customer experience for all of our astronauts to come.

Virgin Galactic crew
Virgin Galactic

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing another idea that had sprung from those childhood dreams turn into reality. Virgin Orbit flew into space for the second time, launching seven customer satellites into orbit. You can watch the story of the day in the video above, and more of my thoughts about it all in the video below.

Sir Richard Branson on the Success of Virgin Orbit's space mission - Tubular Bells Part One

What really stands out to me about Virgin Orbit, aside from the incredible people making it all happen, is Cosmic Girl – an old Virgin Atlantic 747 that was ingeniously refitted by the team to become Virgin Orbit’s mothership. It was a real treat for me to sit in the cockpit and think how far we had come since I cheekily borrowed one 747 from Boeing as a young music executive.

When Virgin Atlantic was being threatened by BA’s Dirty Tricks campaign, I came to the Mojave Desert to be interviewed in front of the graveyard of retired airplanes, relics of failed airlines. The intimation was clear: we were at risk of joining them. And yet here was our 747 alive and well, 30 or so years later, ready for take off with a giant rocket under her wing. From Dirty Tricks to 9/11 to the global economic crisis, Virgin Atlantic has been tested again and again and always came through with flying colours. How wonderful to see Cosmic Girl soaring into the skies and launching satellites into orbit.

"Music to My Ears" — Mission Recap: Tubular Bells Pt. 1

Virgin Orbit has its roots in Virgin Galactic. Its LauncherOne rocket system started life as a part of Virgin Galactic’s work. When we more fully understood the enormous potential for the small satellite industry, we spun Virgin Orbit off into its own, unique company, now putting into action all of the wonderful things satellites can do for the world, from connectivity to safety to understanding.

This journey reminds me of Virgin Records, which went from a mail order music delivery service into the biggest independent record label in the world. Each time we came up with an exciting new direction – from krautrock to dance, punk to pop, classical to new wave, we created new divisions. Soon Virgin Megastores were all over the world, and artists as diverse as Mike Oldfield, The Sex Pistols, The Human League, Janet Jackson, Culture Club, The Rolling Stones and The Spice Girls were household names.

A black and white photo of a policeman walking past the original Virgin Records store on Oxford Street while Richard Branson sits in the window

We’ve always prided ourselves at Virgin for being able to adapt to business needs, while keeping our team and our customers at the heart of what we do. What other brand spans from music to travel to finance to wellness to space Einstein is quoted saying:

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

It’s amazing where an idea can lead you, no matter how far-fetched it may seem at first.