Last week at Le Web, I got to hear Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides talk about the commercialisation of space travel. Here's an interview I did with him, followed by video of his talk.
Among other things, we discuss where the program is now, its potential for facilitating sustainable development on Earth, and product partnership opportunities. Dig in!
Talk a little bit about where the Virgin Galactic program is now.
We are deep into the test flight program now, which is an exciting place to be. We expect to integrate the rocket motor in 2012 and plan to get to space during the year. We’ve taken deposits from 475 amazing individuals. The spaceport in southern New Mexico is getting close to completion, and the Spaceship Company – a joint venture with Scaled Composites – has begun building additional vehicles.
You spoke at length about the importance of dreaming, and indeed Virgin Galactic speaks to many people's dreams of space travel. Still, it's an ambitious effort that demands significant investment and a certain level of technological rigor before it can even expect to begin making money. How does Virgin strike a balance between dreams -- like that of visiting space -- and long-term business sense?
As with any Virgin venture, a rigorous business plan has been developed, and we are very encouraged by the underlying economics of the suborbital space launch market. What is exciting about Galactic is that we are creating a fundamentally new service while building a great business.
Virgin's said before that the commercialisation of space can facilitate development in sustainable efforts, like the beaming of natural energy to earth via satellite. Can you talk a little bit about that?
What is clear is that more frequent and lower cost access to space will enable a range of services and research activities of benefit to humanity. These may include revolutionary environmental monitoring systems, to systems that are much more in the future, like beamed energy from space. While it is hard to predict with absolute certainty which of these will be developed on what timescale, it is clear that there will be enormous benefits to life on earth.
What are your personal ambitions for Virgin Galactic?
Our team is unified in our ambition to create the world’s first spaceline. That means taking thousands of people into space over the coming years, as well as enabling breakthrough science by researchers. Someday we may be able to develop a point-to-point vehicle that would revolutionize the speed of transport around the planet, but for now we are focused on the first goal of safe and successful suborbital spaceflight.
Virgin Airlines has partnerships with companies that speak to Virgin's values -- like Method Home, whose products are used in airline bathrooms. Is this something you think about at all -- what kind of product or service partnerships to conduct to enrich the space experience? If so, what are you looking at?
This is an area that we are starting to spend real effort thinking about, and I think we’ll have some exciting announcements between now and the launch of commercial service.
Thanks for your time!
Whitesides at Le Web: