SS2 first powered flight
Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, flying in the stratosphere after the powered portion of a test flight April 5. Credit: Virgin Galactic

WASHINGTON — Boeing announced Oct. 8 that its venture capital arm will make a small but strategic investment in Virgin Galactic, one which could eventually support high-speed point-to-point travel.

In a joint statement, the companies said that Boeing HorizonX Ventures will invest $20 million in Virgin Galactic once its merger with special-purpose acquisition company Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH) closes, which is expected to be later this quarter. That merger, announced in July, will value the combined company at $1.5 billion, giving Boeing a stake of a little more than 1% in Virgin Galactic.

In that joint statement, the companies said that they will “work together to broaden commercial space access and transform global travel technologies,” but provided few specifics, saying those details will be announced at a later, unidentified date.

“Boeing’s strategic investment facilitates our effort to drive the commercialization of space and broaden consumer access to safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible new forms of transportation,” Brian Schettler, senior managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures, said in a statement. “Our work with Virgin Galactic and others will help unlock the future of space travel and high-speed mobility.”

Boeing has shown little interest in suborbital spaceflight, although it is pursuing commercial orbital human spaceflight with its CST-100 Starliner vehicle for NASA’s commercial crew program. The company also plans to make the vehicle available for other customers, including space tourists.

There is likely greater interest, though, in point-to-point high-speed passenger transportation. HorizonX announced in February it was making a “significant” but undisclosed investment in Aerion, a startup developing a supersonic business jet. Virgin Group previously announced it would purchase supersonic jets under development by Boom Supersonic, with The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic, working with Boom on its aircraft design.

Virgin Galactic executives have long discussed using technology for its suborbital vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, as the basis for future passenger transportation systems. An investor presentation filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Sept. 26 describes “Phase III” of the company being hypersonic point-to-point travel, after introduction of SpaceShipTwo into commercial service and expansion of the suborbital spaceflight market.

That includes, the briefing stated, “opportunities to apply VG’s proprietary technologies and capabilities for other commercial and government uses” including “supersonic and hypersonic vehicles that drastically reduce travel time for point-to-point travel.” The briefing noted a market opportunity that included the $900 billion commercial avation market, but did not set a timetable for addressing that market.

“We are excited to partner with Boeing to develop something that can truly change how people move around the planet and connect with one another,” said George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, in the joint statement.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...