Virgin Galactic's spacecraft Unity fires its rocket engine as it goes toward space.
Boee's arms arm HorizonX announced on Tuesday that it will invest $ 20 million in Sir Richard Branson's space company Virgin Galactic, which the two companies hope to mature the technologies needed to enable hypersonic flights one day.
The investment from the space giant comes as Virgin Galactic prepares to become the first human space airline to go public. Virgin Galactic plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange before the end of the year, through a merger announced in July with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), a specialist acquisition company (SPAC) created by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya. [1
Boeing will have a minority stake in Virgin Galactic when it goes public, as the investment is in return for new shares in the company. When the merger is completed, Virgin Galactic will have a valuation of $ 1.5 billion, with SCH retaining a 49% stake.
"$ 20 million is a $ 1 billion fall in bucket they have raised," Brian Schettler, Boeing HorizonX Ventures' senior managing director, told CNBC. "It really is to catalyze a larger partnership and bring the companies together to explore the future of high-speed mobility and commercial access to space."
Virgin Galactic's first spacecraft December 13, 2018
Source: Virgin Galactic
Schettler sees Virgin Galactic and the wider industry at a bend for commercial access. The space tourism company is in "the last stretch" of testing, Whitesides said, adding that the company "still feels good about coming into operation next year."
Virgin Galactic said in July that it was about to start flying its first customers next year. The company has a backlog of 603 customers at the end of June. Since the last two test flights reached the edge of space, Virgin Galactic says it has received interest from more than 3,000 new potential customers.
The company's spacecraft Unity has up to six passengers along with the two pilots. The spaceship is dropped from a jet-powered aircraft at about 40,000 feet before it fires off the rocket engine and reaches over three times the speed of sound as it climbs up to space. Unity carried a passenger during the test flight in February, the company's chief of astronaut trainer Beth Moses, and is now moving operations from test facility at Mojave Air & Space Port in California down to Spaceport America in New Mexico.  "We need to bring the spaceship down to New Mexico, and then we start our last batch of test flights, and test out the cabin," Whitesides said.
Virgin Galactic currently has approximately 800 employees between flagships and manufacturing operations. devices. The company has two additional spacecraft under construction in Mojave and plans to expand its total fleet to five by the end of 2023.
Point-to-point high-speed travel
Both Whitesides and Schettler emphasized that the investment from Boeing will allow the companies to to explore developing a vehicle that can fly around the world at hypersonic speeds.
"The other exciting part of this is the high-speed mobility part," Whitesides said. "There is no greater or better long-range mobility than Boeing."
A number of new approaches are being developed to make point-to-point high-speed travel a reality, whether it be SpaceX's idea of landing and reusing a runway rocket or flying at hypersonic speeds through the upper atmosphere. Hypersonic is a speed of Mach 5 and higher, or more than five times the speed of sound. According to Virgin Galactic, while a business jet from Los Angeles to Tokyo would take 11 hours, a hypersonic jet would travel the same trip in two hours.
"There is a new chapter that is going to start to be written over the coming years," said Whitesides.
Whitesides expects the two teams to be able to dig further into hypersonic technologies. This was "Phase III" of the plan Virgin Galactic showed investors recently, as the company outlined the "significant market opportunity" from point to point. This case is backed by a March UBS report that estimates Virgin Galactic's main space tourism business has a potential $ 3 billion market for the decade from now – but a point to the market's point will be $ 20 billion.  Virgin Galactic will need to build new vehicles, as point-to-point is not what its current spacecraft is built to do. Whitesides noted that "this is a multi-year process" just about to begin, as "there is work to be done in terms of progress, there is work to be done in terms of air structures and various other places." But now Virgin Galactic has participated in its efforts.
"Part of the exciting opportunity here is to outline a design architecture or design path for what we think are the most commercially successful designs," Whitesides said.
"If we can gather some of the great customer insights from Virgin Group airlines … if we can bring in some of the deep technical, historical insights Boeing has built up over decades, if we can bring some of our fast prototyping and building capabilities to the table, and then we can post these high reusability, high Mach vehicles that we will soon bring to the table, "added Whitesides.