On Sunday afternoon Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, and George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic, appeared on a panel at the Digital – Life – Design (DLD) conference in Munich. The half-hour panel, with the rather clunky title “New Space Mission”, was designed to provide attendees of this rather eclectic conference with a brief overview of the state of space tourism? (How eclectic? The panel took place immediately after a hip hop performance and before a talk by one of the designers on the movie TRON: Legacy.) The two also managed to make a little news about their respective ventures.
The panel’s moderator, Spencer Reiss of Wired, introduced Anderson as the person would sell you a ticket for a trip around the Moon, “and there’s only one ticket left, and it’s $150 million.” When Space Adventures announced its circumlunar flight plans in 2005, they said they would sell two seats for $100 million each. Anderson indicated a short time later that the price apparently had gone up, but, “we have sold one of those.” Reiss asked Anderson who the purchaser was, but Anderson didn’t give a name: “When we tell you, you’ll know who it is. You’ll recognize the name.” Anderson said “we’ve got people we’re finalizing with right now” for the second seat on the flight, which he said would take place around 2015.
Whitesides, meanwhile, said that Virgin Galactic was planning to begin operations in 2012, with Branson and his family, along with Burt Rutan, on the first commercial flight (as Virgin has planned for some time.) “It’s safe to say we expect certainly to be cash flow positive very quickly” once operations begin, he said. Virgin will start with one flight a week, moving to three flights a week during its first year of operations, allowing it to fly up to 500 people during that first year of operations. He added the company would probably spend “about half a billion dollars” before commercial operations begin.
Whitesides said that once the company is ready to expand operations beyond Spaceport America, it will look first to the Middle East, and not Europe as the company had previously indicated. “If we’re able to export the system, we would first export it to Abu Dhabi if the US government permits it,” he said. Back in mid-2009 Will Whitehorn, then-president of Virgin Galactic, said he was “pretty certain” Sweden would be next after Virgin Galactic, followed by somewhere in the Middle East. Since then, though, Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments took a 32-percent stake in Virgin Galactic for $280 million.
Video from the panel is below, but for some reason the last several minutes of the session, including Whitesides’s comments above, are missing: