Status Report

Statement of Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galactic, Before the House Transportation Committee Hearing on Commercial Space Transportation

By SpaceRef Editor
February 10, 2005
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FEBRUARY 9, 2005

Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Costello, and other Members of this
distinguished Subcommittee, on behalf of Virgin Galactic, thank you for the opportunity
to testify today. Virgin Galactic appreciates the chance to explain how, with an
unwavering commitment to safety, we plan to make available and affordable an
adventure of a lifetime. As we move forward to make this vision a reality, we look
forward to working closely with this important Subcommittee and Administrator Blakely,
with whom I am privileged to join on today’s panel of distinguished witnesses.
I am Will Whitehorn, the President of Virgin Galactic. I also am Group
Corporate Affairs and Brand Development Director for Virgin Management Limited. I
have nearly 30 year of aviation experience having previously worked for British Airways
and Thomas Cook before joining Virgin in 1987.

The history of Virgin Galactic goes back to the mid-1990s when Sir Richard
Branson identified that new technologies in composite materials, rocketry and computing
could easily lead to the development of safe, economical reusable spacecraft in the future.
At that time, we registered the Virgin trademark in the area of space travel. In 1999, we
registered the Virgin Galactic name.

Virgin has a long history of working with Burt Rutan going back to the early
1990s. When Mr. Rutan informed us he was building a spaceship for a private customer
to win the X Prize, we made a commitment to him that we would be prepared to develop
a commercial version of SpaceShipOne should he be successful. Over the last year we
have negotiated with Paul G. Allen, the visionary and financier behind SpaceShipOne, to
buy the rights to use his technology. Following the successful conclusion of these
negotiations, we signed a $21.5 million deal for the use of that technology and developed
a $100 million investment plan to build up to five spaceships at Burt Rutan’s factory in
Mohave, California. The plan for the ships themselves is being developed by Mr. Rutan
to a specification created by Virgin Galactic.

Safety obviously is our first priority. Suffice it to say that we have considerable
experience in issues regarding passenger carriage and an unwavering commitment to
safety. Virgin currently operates three separate airlines around the world which together
carry over 50 million passengers a year. The best know of these is Virgin Atlantic
Airways whose main business is operating scheduled services between the United
Kingdom and a variety of destinations in the United States, as well as flights to the Far
East, Africa and Australasia. We have an unblemished safety record having never lost a
single passenger in over 21 years of operation. All of our airlines also are profitable
without ever having received any state subsidy. We also operate the UK’s largest longdistance
rail company which also has an unblemished safety record despite carrying
35 million passengers per year at speeds over 125 miles per hour.

Virgin Galactic plans to start operating base tourism flights in 2008. It is
envisaged that the astronauts that we carry will have a two-and-a-half hour trip with up to
20 minutes in space and a maximum altitude of around 100 miles above the Earth’s
surface. Our current plan is to begin operations in Mohave and then develop a second
site in another location that could possibly be either Florida, Texas or New Mexico. The
flights will be what is known as sub-orbital. The pioneers who become astronauts with
Virgin Galactic will initially pay $200,000 for the trip but the Company hopes to reduce
the cost over time as the business develops. Our long-term goal is to develop commercial
space tourism into an orbital business which could in the future carry payloads as well as
people into orbit. Burt Rutan has expressed his wish to put the first private spacecraft on
Mars. It may be several more years before I get the chance to address the Subcommittee
on that subject!

Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by again thanking you, Ranking Member
Costello, and other Subcommittee Members for the opportunity to testify today. Virgin
Galactic looks forward to working with you and your staff. I am pleased to respond to
your questions today and to keep you apprised of relevant developments as we prepare to

SpaceRef staff editor.