New Space Panel Looks Forward
A panel of business leaders who are reshaping the space industry landscape shared their views on the future at the National Space Symposium.
Moderated by Euroconsult US President Susan Irwin, the Emerging Markets & Applications panel comprised:
- Robert Bigelow, president and founder, Bigelow Aerospace
- Gwynne Shotwell, president, SpaceX
- George Whitesides, chief executive officer and president, Virgin Galactic
Whitesides said that Virgin Galactic has an evolving vision of opening space to more people. "We started with tourism and are now exploring microgravity for research and technology demonstrations," he said. "There is no official timeline for commercial flight; roughly in the next year or so, depending on FAA licensing." He said that he already has 425 people signed on and that the majority have paid full deposit, adding that "over time, the price will come down significantly" and, once that happens, he expects a "big jump" -- maybe as many as 5-10 flights per week.
Whitesides said that his company had received a $280 million investment from an Abu Dhabi-based firm last year and that Virgin Galactic's valuation is now about $1 billion. "At our current price point, we expect to be cash-flow positive in first year."
Bigelow noted that his Lunar Depot Station architecture was built on EELV capabilities, saying, "We have always been significantly connected to transportation and have throttled development accordingly." He added that CCDev developments "have spurred interest" and that Bigelow is expecting its first flight in early 2015. He said that his business model mirrors the real estate world and is similar to office building management and leasing, noting that "the business case improves drastically when going to additional modules, platforms."
Shotwell said that the key to more traditional capital investment -- as opposed to venture capital -- is being able to show reliable business flow, which "will be easier to show soon." She added that dependence on government funding varies widely. While Virgin Galactic has little or none, "SpaceX is heavily involved with NASA."
Both Bigelow and SpaceX had large displays at the 27th National Space Symposium; Bigelow a scale model of its space habitat and SpaceX displayed the Dragon capsule that was recently successfully launched and recovered from space.
Pictured, top: the panel; bottom, Bigelow, Whitesides and Shotwell