Sir Richard Branson, billionaire and founder of Virgin Group, has many accomplishments under his belt.
Ranging from being the 6th richest person in the United Kingdom, to a world record breaker, and even an appearance on an episode of Baywatch, Branson seemingly has done it all. However, there is one item this eccentric public figure and his Scrooge McDuck level of coinage cannot claim in the near future: Chinese citizens on his space flights.
With Branson prepared to enter the age of space tourism by the end of this year with Virgin Galactic space flights, a new wrinkle has appeared due to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Under the ITAR, Chinese nationals may not be exposed to potential military technology, and with the rocket engine that powers this Virgin spacecraft, wealthy Chinese nationals will be denied a $250,000 ticket to space, and be forced to look up at the stars with both feet planted on terra firma. The same goes for citizens of Iran and North Korea, but Branson’s wallet will certainly be feeling the pain with the lack of a Chinese market, a country with many wealthy citizens who would love a shot at space flight, for his endeavor into space tourism.
Another aspect of these ITAR regulations that affect Branson’s bottom dollar is where these flights can be launched. Virgin Galactic’s maiden flight is set to launch from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and unless the ITAR is changed, all future flights must be launched from within the United States.
The ITAR is designed to protect the United States and its Allies by keeping advanced military technology out of the hands of potential enemies. In the case of Richard Branson and his fleet of futuristic looking spaceships, the worry is not about corporate espionage, but of actual military technology being copied and stolen away from the United States. Branson, who may be unfamiliar with United States exporting laws, may have to create a “Virgin Export Compliance Group” to help him with such tasks as ensuring there are no denied or restricted parties on his flights, in addition to making sure all ITAR rules are followed.
This story brings to mind the events of a recent ITAR violator and major U.S. company that inadvertently helped China create the Z-10 Attack helicopter, China’s first military attack helicopter. In this case, this particular company sold something to a Chinese company, violating a U.S. export law. Richard Branson is trying to do something new and innovative, while making a few dollars along the way, yet he still must abide by the same U.S. exporting laws as everyone else. So thank Sir Branson for finally helping us answer the age old riddle; “Do Billionaire Knights care about the ITAR?”