Virgin Galactic astronauts describe ‘surreal’ spaceflight

This was Virgin Galactic’s second revenue generating flight, Whitesides told CNBC. Thanks to the NASA payloads on board this flight and the previous one in December, his company is already beginning to reap the benefits of their efforts.

“Now we can be flying on a rapid basis, and we think it’s really exciting for science and obviously it’s a great thing for our business as well,” Whitesides said.

Part of the advantage of using rapid reusable spaceflight “is that people can get access to their experiments and their technologies right after we land and they can be looking at their data a few minutes after we land,” he added.

Branson’s company is now a step ahead of fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos in the space tourism business. Bezos’ company Blue Origin is in the final stages of testing its New Shepard rocket. He recently addressed the budding competition,saying “one of the issues” Virgin Galactic must address “is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet.” The Karman Line is 100 kilometers of altitude, an internationally recognized boundary of space.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo flies above 80 kilometers, a boundary which the U.S. military and NASA use to recognize astronauts. When asked about those various definitions, Whitesides pointed to the opportunity that Virgin Galactic is offering.

“I think that there are folks who would love to fly, and who recognize that the only other way to do this right now is flying with the Russians and paying $50 to $70 million a seat,” Whitesides said.

“So the idea that you can go to space for some hundreds of thousands of dollars is an incredible value and it’s part of the revolution that’s going on in space as we literally make the costs by orders of magnitude,” he added.

“Opening up space is going to take up lots of companies and it’s going to take lots of innovation,” Whitesides said. “We need to fly more people because we think flying a lot of people into space is going to have a profound impact on the Earth.”

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