Last Friday, I had the privilege to listen to a presentation by Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic.

I was particularly interested to hear how Virgin could be planning to develop a space travel business, whilst simultaneously building on it’s green credentials. After the presentation, I was able to get some time with Will to explore this further.

Virgin believe they have developed breakthrough technology, comprising completely carbon composite construction, a unique benign hybrid rocket motor, biofuels and very high-altitude air launch. All of this results in an environmental impact that is a fraction of traditional spacecrafts.

The biofuels themselves are an interesting conundrum as we’ve all heard of the dilemma that they require land to grow, that pushes out food crops and increases food prices. Of course, Virgin have thought this through as well, and plan for their biofuels to be produced from algae, which actually takes CO2 out of the atmosphere for its production. I quizzed Will further on this, and he told me that he’s already running his car on Buthenol, and that it’s working just fine. Furthermore, whilst Virgin have publicly announced their intention to use biofuels in their traditional aircraft, they also see a time when long-haul flights might be replaced by eco-friendly space travel whereby the majority of the journey takes place in space without causing any damage to our fragile atmosphere at all.

At this stage I gave up trying to question Virgin’s environmental credentials, realising that they’d thought everything through and were many steps ahead of me.

Moving onto the planned space travel, Virgin expect to be able to get passengers into space for around a tenth of the cost that NASA currently incurs. Their spaceship will also be large enough to carry a payload of crew, space tourists, scientists and satellites, meaning that they can advance scientific research at the same time as running what they expect to be a profitable business. This is impressive, because nobody else has even thought of combining space tourism and science into one self-funding entity. It’s also important for the future of IT, as the internet is powered by millions of servers consuming enormous amounts of energy around the world. Richard Branson sees a time when low earth orbit satellites could become a repository for digital information, securing the future of Office Live and other web services, that are all totally dependant on a sustainable internet infrastructure.

To date, 30,000 people have registered interest with Virgin for space tourism. With early trips expected to cost $200,000, that’s a very nice potential pipeline business of $6 billion !

Bookmark and Share