Virgin Galactic optimistic about the future opportunities in space

Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough explains how the new sector will create job opportunities for existing roles and have positive knock-on effects on other industries.

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Image: Virgin Galactic

While Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough admits designing and building a new sector such as commercial space is "really hard", he is optimistic that the new industry will deliver tremendous benefits to other sectors.

"We've always known there's huge potential in space -- whether we create industrial zones in space, whether we get solar power in space, whether we start to mine asteroids, and that we can actually do science research in space," he told ZDNet.

Attenborough acknowledged the exponential growth and interest in the commercial space industry in recent years has been underpinned by a joint international effort.

"When we started back in 2004, the idea of private companies -- let alone people -- in space was an idea. The matters have changed so much during this period. If you look at NASA and all the other big space agencies, they're really relying on the private sector to do quite a lot of that work for them," he said.

"Space remains hard. It needs to be collaborative, and it needs to be international.

"The interesting thing about space is that we seem to be able to cooperate on space relations much better than what we do on earth, and that's fantastic. Hopefully that means the pace of change will be far greater than sometimes in cases where you're trying to collaborate on other things."

When asked about what roles would be necessary to support the future space sector, Attenborough said the space sector would create opportunities for those with existing skills from engineering to operations, as well as sales and marketing.

He is also hopeful that it will be a sector that can attract more female interest.

"One of the things we have setup is an organisation called Galactic Unite where they are using space to inspire young people, particularly young women, to look a science, technology, engineering, and maths because we're going to need really smart people to design, build, and operate not just for this generation of spaceships, but the next generation of space ships," he said.

"The great thing about space is that it does have this universal fascination to use what we're doing to get young people to say it's a fun thing to do, then the future should be pretty bright."

Attenborough said the attraction of space for many is because it creates a sense of optimism, mainly because the idea of going to space had been put on the backburner for decades but it is now suddenly become possible.

"The excitement at the moment is that for so long space has been out of reach for most people because access to it has been so difficult. But now we're seeing that access has improved quite dramatically as vehicles become more affordable and more available to everyone," he said.

"We're also full of anxiety, and our eyes are often looking downwards and worrying about stuff in the near future. There's something about space that just enables us to look up a little bit. That sense of optimism and the future is going to be okay is an important element," he said.

Virgin Galactic became the first space tourism company to launch on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

The company touted that it has more than 600 customers who have put their hands up to be one of the first to pay some $250,000 to be sent into space when Virgin Galactic begins flying passengers in 2020. 

Speaking previously about Richard Branson's bid to take passengers into orbit, former Australian astronaut Dr Andy Thomas called the idea of space tourism "dead-end" and "dangerous". His comments followed Virgin Galactic holding a celebration after its successful launch of a rocket plane into space for the first time.  

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