Space travel makes for big business

On the same day Tim Peake became Britain's first official astronaut to fly to the International Space Station, students at Brentwood School were grappling with the concept of commercial space travel!

As Space history was being made on the world stage, Sixth Formers welcomed Virgin Galactic Commercial Director, Mr Stephen Attenborough, to the School’s Wessex Auditorium.

Mr Attenborough, who has been working with the Galactic Team since 20014, spoke to Business and Economics students on the work that Virgin has been doing to enable commercial space travel and the challenges they face.

Using a series of videos and diagrams, Mr Attenborough explained the purpose of the Virgin Galactic Programme, how it started, where it currently sits, and their ambitious plans for the future.

He explained that since the Apollo Mission in 1961, only 551 people had been to space and that someone was more likely to score a goal in the World Cup final than be fortunate enough to take a trip to space.

“Since watching the Apollo footage on television as a child, Richard Branson has wanted to go to space. He knew others shared this interest, so a business venture into something typically left to the lucky few, seemed like a great idea,” he said.

After discussing how the element of competition and a £2million reward was used to encourage scientists and engineers around the world to solve the programme’s engineering challenges, Mr Attenborough looked at other avenues of business, other than tourism, that the Galactic programme would open up.

He revealed plans to introduce Virgin Galactic Sc1ence Serv1ces, a programme to enable scientists to perform repeated experiments in the space-bound shuttles; Virgin Galactic Cargo, a business based on the selling and launching of satellites, and Virgin Galactic World Travel.

Mr Attenborough stressed the importance of involving benefactors in the process and that being clear on their customers’ desires was crucial. In-depth research was carried out to find out exactly what their target market felt was good value for money and what they wanted the trip to include. He said this research had led to the redevelopment of several aspects which increased the length of the project and brought up new challenges but it made all the difference in the end.
The presentation ended with several well-thought questions by the students and a short clip of the last successful powered-flight. It was clear from the students’ expressions during the video that they had been inspired. It seemed that if something as ambitious as commercial space travel could be made into a successful business, anything was possible.