The Abu Dhabi-backed space enterprise Virgin Galactic is already looking beyond space tourism and is considering offering point-to-point space travel as a means of drastically reducing long-haul travel times, according to the chief executive George Whitesides.
Mr Whitesides said that the company, which is part-owned by Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investment, is studying a series of concepts that will slash travel times by offering space flights from spaceports.
“It’s very interesting that the global aerospace industry has not created a Mach 3-5 transport,” he said yesterday on the sidelines of the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi.
“I really think that that’s the iceberg, if the tip is our initial group of human space flight customers.”
Point-to-point flights between a series of global spaceports, such as Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport 1 in New Mexico and a proposed spaceport in Abu Dhabi, could provide the long-haul backbone of a high speed global transport network, he said.
“To go from Los Angeles to here took me about 20 hours yesterday. Would I take an hour and a half journey from LA to New Mexico if it then allowed me to take a two-hour journey to Abu Dhabi? A sane person would as long as the price and the safety are in place.”
Ideally such a service would be priced to be within range of a long- haul first-class plane ticket or the lease of a private jet, he said.
Such a service was still some way off, he admitted, with several years required to develop both a vehicle for such a service and a wider network of spaceports.
Virgin Galactic’s founder Sir Richard Branson said in February that the company planned to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi by 2016.
The project was still reliant on approvals from the US and UAE regulators, said Mr Whitesides.
Discussions with regulatory authorities were continuing, he said, declining to give further specifics as to when such approvals were expected.
“Commercial space is an area of focus for the US government. The possibility of non-US customers for US aerospace products is obviously a priority and so we are getting positive attention within the US government around these concepts.”
Virgin Galactic is still on track to offer its first commercial space flight later this year, with celebrities such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Tom Hanks among a host of celebrities paying US$250,000 for the privilege.
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