The National Space Society vision is people living and working in space

Excerpt from a speech by Sir Richard Branson upon the unveiling of WhiteKnightTwo, Mohave Air & Spaceport, California, July 28, 2008

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about why I consider space to be the final frontier that is so essential to the future of civilization on this planet.

It was Stephen Hawking who first got me thinking about this issue, when he explained clearly and concisely to the BBC that mankind had no option but to get to space as quickly as possible and start doing things up there that we have been doing on planet Earth, but in a much more efficient manner.

Our population is now heading to 9 billion people by the middle of this century — that’s three times more than when I was born.  With the end of the oil era approaching, and climate change progressing faster than most models have been predicting, the utilization of space is essential not only for communications but also for the logistics of survival through things such as weather satellites, agricultural monitoring, GPS and climate science.

I also believe that someday we will be able to use space as a source of energy for the planet, through solar power satellites, using the most sustainable source available — our Sun.

In the unscientific view which people unfortunately sometimes take about the problems we face on this planet, aviation has often been singled out as a key component of climate change.

While, as you know, I believe that aviation has to get much more carbon efficient than it is today, it is important that people begin to realize that seemingly benign industries such as Information Technology have in fact overtaken aviation in terms of their CO2 output and seeing WhiteKnightTwo in reality sends the message that aerospace really can become much more efficient than other forms of transport or indeed entire other industries and at the same time, help them improve their environmental footprint.

The explosive growth of the internet has resulted in a world in which we have over half a billion servers, each one consuming hundreds of watts. Industries like this would benefit enormously from the ability to launch low Earth orbit satellites that could literally take some of the heat out of the planet, for example, by serving someday as the repository of our information technology.

So the fact that this system will have the capability to launch small payloads and satellites at low cost is hugely important. As far as science is concerned, this system offers tremendous potential to researchers who will be able to fly experiments much more often than before, helping to answer key questions about Earth’s climate and the mysteries of the universe.

And for applied research, it is currently just too expensive to be able to do most of the things in space from which industries like biotechnology could really benefit. The beauty of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo is that they can help change the paradigm of our relationship to space, achieving an era where space accessibility becomes a commercial and scientific norm, rather than an exception.

The other thing that I really admire about the system is that it has the architecture that could someday to be developed into a passenger carrying vehicle, able to take people from A to B around the planet, outside of the atmosphere.

That may not happen for some time, but the first generation of space tourists, many of whom are with us today, will be paving the way as they marvel at the beauty of our planet and experience the freedom of weightlessness and the blackness of space.

Finally, I think it’s very important that we make a genuine commercial success of this project. If we do, I believe we’ll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology. This could rival the scale of investment in the mobile phone and internet technologies after they were unlocked from their military origins and thrown open to the private sector. 

So, Burt, congratulations on designing and building a system that will allow thousands of people to realize their dreams and that will act as a catalyst to transform human access to space.

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Updated Wed, Aug 6, 2008 at 09:43:33
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