Land Rover is an iconic British brand with a long history of transporting people on Earth. However, it also has a well-established partnership with Virgin Galactic and plays a role in that company’s spaceflights. Here’s what Land Rover has been up to lately and how Richard Branson’s recent spaceflight went.
Land Rover successes in 2021
Land Rover has been manufacturing 4x4s since 1948. The well-established automaker has had a busy year with various projects. For example, it released a redesigned Defender, which hadn’t seen a redesign in decades. And the new look earned the Defender the 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year.
In April 2021, when Prince Philip died in Britain at age 99, his body was transported to Windsor Castle during a ceremonial funeral procession. His coffin was carried in a custom Land Rover Defender 130 Gun Bus, which the prince helped design.
In addition, Jaguar Land Rover is working on a Defender EV prototype that will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The effort is part of the company’s goal to have zero tailpipe emissions by 2036.
Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Group
British entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Records in the early 1970s. The company later expanded into the Virgin Group, which includes Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Voyages, Virgin Galactic, and others, Biography reports.
Branson is also known for his adventurous accomplishments, including being the first person to cross the Atlantic and the Pacific by hot-air balloon. He also recently completed a flight with Virgin Galactic, the “first private company to fly humans into space in a craft designed for commercial service,” Land Rover explains. Virgin Galactic also manufactures air and space vehicles.
Land Rover’s involvement in space
In July 2021, Land Rover supported Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed space flight, the fourth crewed spaceflight overall for the company. Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, was one of four Mission Specialists aboard the flight, along with the two pilots.
The two companies have been in partnership since 2014. Land Rover vehicles “tow Virgin Galactic space vehicles, transport astronauts, and support day-to-day operations.” Land Rovers are also used for transporting equipment and clearing the runway before takeoff.
For this flight out of New Mexico, Branson arrived in a Range Rover Astronaut Edition, and after completing the flight, the spacecraft was towed back by a Land Rover Defender 110. The Range Rover Astronaut Edition was unveiled in 2019. This SUV was created by Land Rover SV Bespoke and was available only for Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut customers.
“This is an incredible technical and human achievement for the Virgin Galactic team as they took personal adventure to thrilling new heights. Land Rover is proud to have supported this exciting mission and we look forward to supporting all the flights into the future,” said Joe Eberhardt, president and CEO of Jaguar Land Rover North America.
Land Rover vehicles will be used to transport future space travelers to their flights as well. Virgin Galactic already has 600 Future Astronaut customers on its list. Land Rovers will also continue in support functions.
The craft Branson flew in, the SpaceShipTwo, is a winged plane with one rocket motor. Virgin Galactic has been developing this spacecraft for two decades, CNN reports. The spacecraft was taken up by a twin-fuselage mothership, called WhiteKnightTwo. It then flew under its own power to about 50 miles high. Then the spacecraft curled its wings upward and returned to Earth. During the flight, Branson and the other onboard experienced weightlessness and had amazing views of Earth.
Virgin Galactic is working to make suborbital trips a viable tourism opportunity. There is expected to be one more Virgin Galactic test flight before paying customers are allowed to travel to space. The company will likely be in competition with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.