South Australia has been pinpointed as a potential launch site for Richard Branson’s commercial space tourism program, Virgin Galactic.
Celebrating the company’s maiden test flight into space a week ago, Branson told Sky News in the UK he expects the first paying customers – of which there is a waitlist of 700 budding astronauts – should start flying into space by the end of 2019.
The test flight took off and returned from the Mojave Desert, California. While Spaceport America in nearby New Mexico remains the operational headquarters, Virgin Galactic is considering other launch pads around the world. In July this year, Branson’s company inked a framework agreement with Italian fellow space companies, Sitadel and ALTEC, to establish a space hub in Europe.
That agreement envisions a dedicated space vehicle system, built by Virgin Galactic’s sister enterprise The Spaceship Company, being positioned at the future Grottaglie Spaceport in Italy.
The space vehicle would be utilised by customers such as the Italian Space Agency as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as for private passengers to experience space.
Closer to home, a similar arrangement has now been flagged by Branson for South Australia. The revelation comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced that Adelaide had been chosen as the location of Australia’s Space Agency, to be established by mid-2019.
“This Agency is going to open doors for local businesses and Australian access to the US$345 billion global space industry,” Morrison said. South Australia’s Premier Steven Marshall added that having the headquarters of the Australian Space Agency in SA will “launch our space and defence sectors to the next level.”
Branson welcomed Australia’s Space Agency strategy, telling Sky News: “I would love for our third space port to be built in Australia, and to be able to take some of our Virgin Galactic spaceships to Australia and operate them from Australia.”
I would love for our third space port to be built in Australia, and to be able to take some of our Virgin Galactic spaceships to Australia and operate them from Australia.
Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder
“I’m sure that’s something our team will be talking to your Space Agency about and hopefully it’s one of the first things that we’ll be able to accomplish together.”
“I think it’s fantastic Australia have set it up,” The Advertiser reported Branson saying, adding that he hoped the agency’s establishment will lead to expansion for the Virgin Galactic brand in the country.
Marshall said his Department is already making contact with Sir Richard: “He’s very welcome to come here.”
South Australian Tourism Commission Chief Executive, Rodney Harrex, said the state has gained interest from some of the most successful entrepreneurs, including Sir Richard Branson.
“It’s sending a powerful message to the rest of the world and positioning us as a world leader.”
“The possibility of a Virgin Galactic spaceport is a huge opportunity for South Australia,” Harrex told LATTE.
“From breathtaking Kangaroo Island to the historic Flinders Ranges and everything in between, South Australia is home to some of the world’s most incredible experiences – they might not be out of this world, but they’re certainly close to it,” he quipped.