Whitesides: Powered SpaceShipTwo Flights Coming “Very Soon”

George Whitesides
George Whitesides

Virgin Galactic is looking at powered flights into space by the end of this year with commercial ones with paying passengers in 2014, according to Virgin Galactic CEO and President George Whitesides.

The Virgin Galactic chief made the comments in a Q&A interview that was put out at the end of last month by XOJET, a private jet company that has established an exclusive private air Concierge Access service to serve Virgin Galactic’s exclusive group of nearly 600 future astronauts.

XOJET, by the way, is part of the portfolio of Aabar Investments, the Abu Dhabi-owned company that has provided most of the funding for Virgin Galactic. So, the interview isn’t exactly probing, but it does contain some interesting details.

On the Schedule for Powered and Commercial Flights:

“We’ve been flying both vehicles for several years now. We’ve had about a hundred test flights on the carrier aircraft and over 40 flights on the spaceship. Our first powered flight will be very soon, and I won’t give a specific date, but our hope is to get into space approximately by the end of this year. That will be a test flight, so the first commercial space flights should come at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2014. That’s what we’re targeting.”

On Vehicle Production in Mojave:

“We essentially have one pair of vehicles—the ones we’re flying now. Then we have the second pair, basically copies of the first pair, which are being produced now in Mojave. Our aspiration is to build five spaceships and a couple more carrier aircraft; we think that’s a good number with which to scale up the business.”

On Safety:

The biggest challenge is making sure that we build a vehicle that is as safe as can be and meets our customers’ expectations in terms of experience. So we’ve been working for several years now, building SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. We’ve essentially designed a system that is meant to be as fail-safe as possible. That is to say, we keep making great safety improvements that will make it the safest manned space ship ever built.”

On Keeping Customers Entertained While They Wait for Their Rides:

“What we try to do is to enable our customers to meet each other and come together around bigger milestone events for our company. So, for example, one of the events we did was for the rollout for the spaceship. That was a terrific event with several governors and various other folks. We’ve also had trips to Richard’s properties including Necker Island and the South African game reserve, Ulusaba. Through it all, what we’re trying to do is share the magic of the overall experience and to build that community of folks, because it’s a remarkable group of people.”

Read the full interview here.