A charge of sexual harassment recently leveled against Richard Branson is inauspiciously timed for Virgin’s commercial spaceflight enterprises.
Media reports have circulated the past week of U.S. pop singer Antonia Jenae’s allegation that the knighted U.K. mogul put his face into her breasts during a 2010 party at his residence in the Caribbean Islands. Branson said he has no recollection of the event.
There was no immediate indication any legal action will ensue, but the public relations fall-out was immediate for Branson, who’s been promoting an autobiography, “Finding My Virginity.”
Time will tell if his global business enterprises take a hit from the negative press. For now, it’s safe to say the publicity is particularly awkward for younger-fry Virgin enterprises such as the group’s commercial spaceflight companies.
Branson’s launch-services company Virgin Orbit recently touted U.S. Defense Department interest in its new LauncherOne. Officials said the Defense Dept. has booked a demo flight of a LauncherOne prototype sometime in 2019.
The launch vehicle is designed to send small satellites into orbit after being lifted into flight by the White Knight Two spaceplane that Virgin also has in development. In 2015, Arlington, Va.-based broadband communications start-up OneWeb also hired Virgin Orbit to place at least 39 micro-satellites into space once its LauncherOne is operational.
Last month, Branson’s Virgin Group said it’s seeking U.S. approval for a $1 billion investment in Virgin Orbit and two other commercial space units — space tourism company Virgin Galactic and spacecraft designer the Spaceship Co.
Riyadh-based Future Investment Initiative and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund aim to partner on a $1 billion minority stake in Virgin’s spaceflight operations. But U.S. regulatory agencies must approve the deal, as Virgin Orbit is based in Long Beach, Calif., and Branson space-tourism unit Virgin Galactic is based in Las Cruces, N.M.