Attenborough: Virgin Galactic in “Final Stretch”

Gear down. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Businessworld has a Q&A with Virgin Galactic’s Stephen Attenborough, who says that he expects the company to begin commercial flights by 2012. Some key excerpts:

When will we see the first human going on a private space flight?

…The big aircraft has finished its test flights and it has performed flawlessly. The spaceship is at the glide flight path of its programme because it is a reusable vehicle. We will probably have 5-6 glide flights. Then, later this year, we expect to test the rocket launcher for the first time. As soon as the propulsion tests start, provided the first couple of tests go well, we will undertake the first space flight.

I am hopeful (it will be) this year or early next year. We will undertake a series of space flights until we know everything we need to know. At the same time, we will be getting the regulatory clearances. Once that is complete, we start commercial service. We are on the final stretch. Richard (Branson) can’t wait to fly; he will be on the first commercial flight.

What is the target date?

The big moment this year will be the first propulsion test when, for the first time, the rocket will power the spaceship. We don’t set target dates; we set milestones. You are completely dependent on the data that comes out from the space flight to determine what the next milestone would be.

How much investment has gone into the programme till date?

About $250 million till now. The bulk is used to develop the spaceships. By the time we become commercial, it would have cost $400 million-plus.

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