VG’s Whitesides: Working Hard, Making Progress

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo prepped before the first drop test. (Credit: Mark Greenberg)

My colleague Jeff Foust and I covered Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides’ presentation during ISDC in Huntsville. Below are our Tweets on the talk. You can follow us @Spacecom and @Jeff_Foust.

spacecomPARABOLIC ARC @Spacecom
  • George Whitesides is talking about Virgin Galactic. Showing first video now.
  • VG’s video has JFK quoting George Mallory on why explore Mt. Everest: “because it’s there.” Deletes JFK’s mention that Mallory died there.
  • VG’s video message: All the adventure of exploration without any of the risks that Mallory took.
  • Whitesides shows another video of an SS2 glide flight.
  • Glide flight video soundtrack: Steal Wheels’ Stuck in the Middle With You. Good choice.
  • Whitesides showing third video of the day: feather flight footage. It’s like watching YouTube live!
  • Whitesides: Two milestones down (first glide and feather). Next two: powered flight and trip to space.
  • Whitesides answers on SS2 engine: making good progress and moving ahead, but not much in the way of specifics.
  • Whitesides: Focused on the hybrid engine for now, liquid engine on SS2 might make sense down the road.
  • Whitesides: VG focused on creating profitable business with SS2; not focused on orbital now (altho partner with Sierra Nevada on CCDev
  • Questioner: The Virgin Galactic logo that is a closeup of Branson’s own eyeball is “really creepy”. Whitesides: I’ll pass that along.
  • Whitesides: Northrop Grumman sees Scaled Composites as a “magical place” and don’t want to screw it up. (Northrop owns Scaled).
  • Whitesides: suborbital space travel is a “hard thing that we’re doing.”
Jeff Foust JEFF FOUST @Jeff_Foust
  • Whitsides: feathered flight 1 of 4 key milestones for test program, after 1st glide flt and before 1st powered flt & 1st to space.
  • Whitesides: Virgin has 425 people who have paid a deposit, $55M+ in deposits representing $80M in ticket sales.
  • Whitesides: think there is a “robust” market for flights at $200K/ticket; plan to stay at that price point for a while.
  • Whitesides: “making good progress” on engine testing, but few specifics on when the engine would be ready for powered flight tests.
  • Whitesides adds on the engine that they are sticking to the hybrid engine design; may make sense down the road to try liquid engine.
  • Whitesides: not planning to make a decision on smallsat launcher for a while; focused on developing SS2.
  • Whitesides: not thinking about orbiting now, focus on “safe, profitable, sustainable” suborbital business w/SS2 for now.
  • Whitesides: flying research scientists separate from tourists? Depends on the research being performed; take a common sense approach.
  • Whitesides: already started construction of next vehicle pair (WK2 and SS2).
  • Whitesides: may operate in Europe someday but depends on export control. Don’t baseline it in business plan.