Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides has penned a piece promising a bright future for commercial and recreational space flight, despite the disastrous impact of COVID-19 upon the industry.
COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on industries around the world, with aerospace in particular troubled – while Virgin Galactic has managed to avoid much of the financial drama of its commercial airline partners, the commercial space flight and space tourism company waits with bated breath about its future.
Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides has moved to reassure space enthusiasts, the industry and investors that the future remains bright for both Virgin Galactic and industry suppliers.
"The NASA demo-2 SpaceX launch is part of a larger story that we should all recognise and celebrate. It is and will increasingly be, a global story, but the US can be proud to have taken the lead in harnessing the ingenuity and innovation of the private space sector," he said.
"This, enabled by forward-looking policies from its public leaders and civil space program, has laid the foundations for the next space age.
Whitesides added, "This is evident in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a project that has brought about the genesis of two human-rated, orbital-class spacecraft with tremendous cost-savings. It can also be seen elsewhere, across a broad portfolio of public and private space projects: in NASA’s industry-driven approach for lunar landers for its Artemis moon program; in commercial providers leveraging private financing to offer resupply services for the International Space Station; and in the evolving genesis of space-based industrial R&D and commercial space habitats, which is enabling a sustainable transition toward a low-Earth orbit economy.
"With Commercial Crew, NASA took a chance on the private sector to provide routine and reliable transportation services for its most valuable asset, humans, and to do it safely and cost-effectively.
"Through the hard work of employees at SpaceX and Boeing and suppliers across the country, it is paying off. More and more, commercial companies are achieving missions and providing services that were once exclusively the domain of government, such as human spaceflight. Everyone involved in the space enterprise is set to gain from this by learning from those experiences to advance their own aspirations and visions."
Growing commercial and public interest in space tourism, and renewed interest in space exploration as a result of the rise of SpaceX and the US government's planned return to the moon and subsequent Mars missions, is also seen by Whitesides as an incredible opportunity for the industry and Virgin Galactic in particular.
"Virgin Galactic already sees this mutual benefit at work in our own partnerships, such as NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which provides researchers access to the valuable microgravity of suborbital space aboard commercial vehicles like our SpaceShipTwo," Whitesides said.
"While today their experiments fly autonomously aboard our vehicle without a ‘human-in-the-loop’, NASA is now considering letting scientists fly in the spacecraft alongside their payload to manually tend to their research.
"This will revolutionise space-based science and open up a global commercial market for human-tended suborbital space research. It is yet another example of the private sector stepping up to a challenge, providing a unique service for NASA, and then using that capability to develop new markets and new means of business."
Whitesides added, "The team at Virgin Galactic looks forward to congratulating NASA and SpaceX on a successful flight, and to the many other milestones the space industry is set to achieve over the coming years as we move our journey in space forward."
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