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Transcript: Space4U podcast, Will Pomerantz

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. This is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation, vice-president for strategic communications and outreach, with the Space4U podcast, the podcast that tells the stories of the amazing people who make our adventures in space possible. I’m joined today by Will Pomeranz. Who’s the vice president for special projects and brand at Virgin Orbit.

 

In Glendale, California Will is a fully practice space veteran having been part of the X prize team, one of the founders of the Brook Owens fellowship, and even a weightless flight coach with zero gravity. He’s also worked with future on the International Space University and the United Nations. And after listening to this podcast, Look up his Ted Talk.

 

Why we go leaving our beautiful home and exploring outer space? It’s a very cool and thought-provoking conversation. He offers there, but we want you to listen to this podcast first. We’ll thank you for joining us. Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here. Well, tell me, how did you get your start in the space industry?

 

Was there a particular moment growing up that you knew space was the place for you? There were kind of a couple, I think I left space when I was a kid in the way that most kids love space. You know, I did the book report about Saturn and I had a poster on the wall and things like that, but honestly it never occurred to me as a career, as anything really more than a hobby or an interest.

 

I think part of that was probably because. I started wearing glasses when I was about eight. And I knew that knocked me out of the running to be a NASA astronaut. And my young eight-year-old brains sort of foolishly assumed that astronaut was about the only job in the industry. So I really forgot about it as anything other than something would, I would happily pay attention to if it was put in front of me until I started college.

 

And then when I was a freshman in college, you know, at the very part of your first year in school, when every club is recruiting all the time, I remember I happened to be walking through the science center at my school, and I thought a sign on a door saying there was going to be the introductory meeting of a space club called sets the students for the exploration and development of space.

 

And the meeting was starting in just a minute or two in the room. I was walking past and I said, well, you know, I kind of like space, I’ll go check it out. I ended up just really liking the club. I liked the people in the club. And most importantly through that club, I discovered that space is an actual industry that has lots of different types of jobs, not just astronaut and mission controller, as awesome as those jobs are, but also scientists and policy people and business people and lawyers and everything else.

 

And that sort of opened my eyes to a much more deep and much more broad field than I knew existed. I ended up clearing earth and planetary sciences as my major later that year. And I’ve been really in love with being a circumstance. So did that catch your folks by surprise? When you came back from break and said what you were going to major in, uh, a little bit, especially because I declared that as my major before I’d taken a single class in that department, they knew, and I knew, I knew I loved science and I knew I wanted to do something with science.

 

And I’ve been thinking about chemistry. I’ve been thinking about physics. I’ve been thinking about astronomy. And then I sort of discovered this major and realize that I could take classes in all those departments and they would all count for credit. So that was actually the initial reason why I declared this as a major and then ended up taking some of the pre-recs for that major specifically.

 

And really just, yeah, I love that field, even though I don’t work professional in that field anymore. I still love it to this day. I think earth and planetary sciences is a great mix of it’s a hard science, but it has some elements of history. And almost detective work to it. And that mix really appealed to me very much.

 

So tell me about your job at Virgin Orbit and what does a vice president for special projects do? I’ve been lucky enough to have that title for about nine years now. So I started at the Virgin group doing space staff in 2011 at Virgin Galactic. I was one of the earlier employees on the Virgin Galactic team and came in with that title because, you know, at the time galactic was really a pretty rapid growth start up, even though the spaceship two project has been around for awhile.

 

At scale composites, the Virgin Galactic team had been awesome, but small until around the time that I joined when it was starting to scale up. And when it was starting taking more, bought more of the work in-house and what the team realized was what I think all startups share, which is that when you’re in rapid growth startups, So every day, you’re in covering a whole new section of work that you didn’t know existed yesterday.

 

And that you need to, if not master, you need to at least understand relatively well pretty quickly. So you can assess, is this a big challenge or a small one? This is a big opportunity or a small one, you know, can we do this ourselves? Are there another solution out there that we can go and borrow or buy or whatever else?

 

And so that’s sort of why my, I had this wonderfully vague title of. Vice president of special projects, because my job was sort of to, whenever we uncovered a rock and we found something interesting or something scary, there was to sort of focus in on that and pretty quickly find out what we might do with it and who in the world would be best at doing it and then go help hire that person or empower that person to go and do that exact thing.

 

That wasn’t really fun job for me. I sort of discovered throughout my career. That’s what I like. And that’s what I’m good at. And I enjoy taking on lots of different challenges. One of my other jobs, when I wasn’t busy fighting fires or chasing an opportunity that we hadn’t foreseen that sort of came across our doorstep was trying to think about other business lines, other product lines that the company could go to because we knew we’d hired a lot of incredibly smart people.

 

We knew we were developing some neat technology, some beautiful facilities, you know, the right equipment, all those kinds of things. And I think anytime, any company. Pulls together, those ingredients you start to think about. Okay. Well, in addition to my main product, what else should I be building? And regardless of how excited you are about that main product, you’d probably just want a couple of different things.

 

So you’ve got future growth paths and you’ve got some redundancy, you’ve got some flexibility and all those kinds of things, and there’d been a big list of other business ideas. That Virgin Galactic to go to that existed. Well, before I got there, but I sorta got asked to help go through that list and more methodically to say, okay, this is a good idea.

 

And this other, one’s not a very good idea for now. Let’s come back to it later. Okay. This is something that we could do in house. This is something we should. Contract out or do a joint venture, you know, all those kinds of questions. And one of the ideas on the list was the idea that Virgin Galactic, should get into the business of small satellite launch.

 

It certainly wasn’t my idea. In fact, I must didn’t, I wasn’t even terribly dude gastric about it when I first saw it, but it was an idea that we thought we might have some interesting technological advantages to, to pursue. So I got asked to work with a bunch of people far smarter than I to evaluate that idea and to say both.

 

Can we, and should we, so look at the technical capability and to look at that economic and social, social impact of doing so, and sort of found again, kind of to myself prize that’s not only was there a technical solution that we thought we could make that was relatively unique, or at least brought some cool advantages that weren’t already present in the market.

 

But also what we found was this enormous. Pent up energy for people who wanted to design smaller satellites and who needed a different way to launch them. This is at a time when there weren’t very many small satellite companies, but there were a lot of interesting projects in academia and some government labs or universities or things like that.

 

And maybe just this. Tiniest inkling that there might be a startup community waiting in the wings. We sort of were able to see that coming a little bit and to realize that those projects, if they were successful, we’re going to need a launch solution that was tailored to them rather than hitchhiking a ride on a bigger rocket, which is really wonderful for a lot of people.

 

Reasons, but also really limited for a lot of reasons. They were going to need a system that had been designed specifically for them, and that shared all their positive attributes. And we sort of realized that some of the benefits of our technological solution, particularly the fact that we were accustomed to vehicles that use a technique called AirLaunch where rather than launching from the ground we’d launch from under the wing of an airplane that brought us some of the responsiveness, some of the flexibility.

 

That’s what. Is the very thing that makes small satellites as special and as impactful as they are. So we sort of thought, Hey, there is a business model that closes, but also there’s a. And enabling impact where you take all these great economic and social good that can be done with small satellites. And you actually enable that dream to come true.

 

If you’re able to give them this portion of lunch. So I got to help set up the Virgin Orbit team. It’s still weird to me, but I’m technically employee number one here got to go and identify and hiring power folks who were far better than had actually designing that thing and testing it, building it, putting it into operation.

 

How does an enterprise known for making small sets? And as you mentioned, creating a launch capability of putting satellites into orbit as they take off from an aircraft, how does a enterprise known for doing those types of things? As well as pioneering commercial space travel, get involved with making ventilators to help hospitals and healthcare workers.

 

With the COVID-19 pandemic response. I think it starts really at a human very individual level. I would say generally our workforce are really creative. They’re very technically driven. They love solving challenges, and they also care about a bigger picture. You know, I’ve found it at every step in my career, in the aerospace community, aerospace people genuinely care about the world, not just about their small part in it, but about making the world a better place.

 

And when you got a workforce like that, And then you combine that with a unfolding global crisis. Like we’re seeing now with COVID-19, what we found was you could tell, I mean, anytime you talk to a colleague, as soon as they left work, they were going home and all they were doing was. Reading the news, they’re finding out what’s happening and thinking about, you know, what can I do?

 

Is there something I can do? You know, there aren’t enough masks in the world. Can I be making masks kind of be making good CEO? Can I be making, you know, what a hand sanitizer, whatever it is. A lot of people you could tell that spirit existed at every level of the country, winning every department from the most junior person to the most senior person.

 

And that goes up through our CEO, Dan Hart, Dan lifelong engineer himself is definitely very much in that creative problem-solving mode. Had a bunch of ideas for what we could do, but because we aren’t doctors and we’re not a medical device company. And because there’s been just so much news and so much noise going on about this crisis, we sort of said, well, here’s a couple things I think would help, but I don’t actually know.

 

If they would help. And I don’t know which of them would help the most and I don’t know how to spend my time. Uh, and so Dan put in the phone call to the office of our governor here in California, the office of Governor Newsom and we already had a connection just because we’re a business here and have been very privileged to work with the state on a couple of things called the governor and said, Hey, I got a factory, I got a workforce and I’m willing to use it.

 

What would be most helpful? And the governor put us in touch with a state government agency called FEMSA California’s emergency medical services authority. We talked to them and said, Hey, should we be making masters would making PPE should be making something else. They clued us in to the existence of this group called the bridge ventilator consortium, which is a really fantastic volunteer group of primarily doctors and clinicians, but also a couple of biomedical engineers and other experts like that.

 

Really led by the University of California, Irvine and University of Texas Austin, who had sort of clued into this idea that this devastating ventilator shortage that we’ve all read about in the news. And we’ve all seen the horrible and tragic effects of it. They realized that one potential way out of that was by observing that the existing ventilators of which they’re are not enough.

 

Also do much more than is needed for the majority of COVID-19 patients. They are very feature rich, incredibly sophisticated, very well-designed machines that have a lot of functions that are not needed for the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 patients. But also because they’re so sophisticated, they’re expensive, they’re slow to build.

 

And the existing medical supply chain is not able to keep up with the insanely increasing demand. And so they had sort of identified this need for, if someone could go out there and design. Highly manufacturable, very low-cost ventilator that isn’t nearly as robust. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as the cutting-edge things and that’s okay.

 

Design something. That’s a minimum viable product to borrow a term from other industries, designing something that does much, much less, but that does enough to keep COVID-19 patients alive, to keep them well, either until they recover or until a more sophisticated ventilator frees up. They’ve told us that.

 

If someone could do that, that would be enormously impactful, not only here in the United States, but throughout the rest of the world, particularly in the developing world. So how hard is it though for an operation that makes small sets and you know, other critical aerospace and, and rocket parts to pivot.

 

To making ventilators. I mean, did you have to retrain or reorient your staff, I assume you would with, with the different types of requirements? Yeah, so we, we, it’s a great question. We sort of went in wondering the exact same thing ourselves. We called into our first phone call of this bridge Vander labor consortium.

 

And, and honestly, I think when we called in. And it was, it was, I think it was two engineers from our side to call in. So relatively small team, we called in sort of wondering, Hey, how can we help? Do you have someone else who just needs someone to double check their design? So can we lend a little bit of engineering hours or maybe if they’re like one component or a part of someone else’s system that we could make the capture.

 

What we found through this group was that, although there were a bunch of interesting efforts being led by universities, some really important ones being led by open source groups in places like Spain and Ireland, no one had quite cracked the nut of designing something that met COVID 19 goals, which are in the physician’s understanding of COVID-19, which is evolving day to day and was also really, really highly manufacturable.

 

And also brought to the table and actual manufacturing capability. And so we sort of learned from these doctors and they were requesting us, Hey, could you, rather than helping someone else cause you actually go and build one of these things. And so we’ve been looked at your exact question. Okay. Well what would that take?

 

And what we found was that, although we’re not a medical device company, there’s actually a, a lot of similarities between the medical devices industry and the aerospace industry. You know, we both are engineering led industries that are used to dealing with. Incredibly high thresholds for reliability, all kinds of precision standards and things like that.

 

We’re both used to dealing with industries that are very highly regulated. And so we had some of the basic tool set are ready. We also found that actually just looking on our own. Workforce we found, we had a couple employees who at earlier stops in their career, had worked in the medical device industry, including at least one that had specifically worked on ventilators, just because there is some commonality between some of the skillsets that are needed to design the avionics for a dedicated small launch vehicle and the sensor boards that you’ve used at a high-end ventilator.

 

And so we were able to go and pull some of those people and say, Hey, can you give us a quick education? Guess we know engineering, but we don’t know the vocabulary. That’s specific to this form of engineering. We don’t, we’re not familiar with. You know, we’re used to dealing with ISO standards or IEEE or ANSI or whatever else, but we’re not used to using these specific ones.

 

Can you help us translate from that field to this field? And actually we were able to find that for a device as simple and as unsophisticated as ours is, we were able to get people transferred over from building rocket parts to building ventilator parts. Quite quickly, you know, it’s often a matter of, okay, one or two shifts worth of training, and then they’re ready to go.

 

You know, I don’t know that that would scale up to buildings. The higher end ventilators and our respect for the medical device manufacturers is enormous as we learn more. But for the stuff we’re doing, I mean, our, our device, essentially, it’s about as simple as you get, right. What we’re doing is we’re taking an existing medical supply item.

 

Usually called an ambul bag. Although that’s one specific brand name, this is a device that you’ve probably seen on TV. I hope you’ve never seen one in real life, but it’s the device. You can imagine an EMT or a doctor or a nurse who’s in the back of an ambulance, or who’s transporting a patient who is in respiratory distress from point a to point B.

 

They attach this thing to the patient that looks a little bit like a football and that they are physically squeezing with their hands. To force air in and out of the lungs of the patient. What we did was we took that exact system. We’re literally buying those systems off the shelf and we’re just replacing the doctor or the nurses or the EMT hand with a simple device that squeezes the bag.

 

And what that does is yeah. With, as with any type of automation, you know, it can run for hours or days or even weeks, and it doesn’t need to eat or take breaks or do shift changes. But the other big thing is, well, we don’t have enough doctors or UMTS or nurses to meet this demand. And when you have someone physically squeezing this ampule bag or it’s manual, resuscitator.

 

You are now by definition, taking a healthcare worker and asking them to sit a foot or two away from the nose and mouth of a COVID 19 patient and to squeeze a bag, which probably on every squeez is aerosolizing the virus. Right? So you’ve taken one of our healthcare workers and put them very much in harm’s way, much better to have a simple machine doing that.

 

So designing a machine that just squeezes the bag at a very reliable pressure in a very reliable rate. No, that’s something pretty straightforward. If you’re used to building. Rocket engine parts or avionics or aircraft parts, you know, you probably have all the skillset to do that. Once you learn from the basic terminology and a couple of the specific sub facets of the art.

 

So how much of this were your workers able to do remotely say working at home and then did you have to create what I would call a socially distant assembly line? Yeah, we did. So certainly some of the early design could be done remotely, but most of what we’re doing has been building lots and lots of these things and then testing them.

 

And that requires humans to be in a factory, you know, operating the machinery and setting up the test rigs or things like that. Now what had happened was. We actually, you know, here at Virgin Orbit for all of our work, not just the ventilator work, but the rocket work as well, we acted pretty decisively and pretty early relative to what we’re seeing in other parts of the country, potentially in terms of sort of recognizing that this was not just the flu, you know, th this was a really big deal and it was going to make a major impact on our world and on our workers and on their families.

 

And so we had started relatively early to start thinking about, you know, reconfiguring workspaces and things like that when the state issued. Our version of shelter in place. So it’s called the safer at home restrictions. We were declared an essential business that was exempt from that. But what we decided to do was even though we were an essential business and had the full clearance to make everybody come into work, we didn’t want to do that unless we could ensure they were healthy.

 

So we actually sent all of our workers home for a week and we use that week to go in and. Totally redesigned. Some of the workspaces, we took out all the tables in the cafeteria. So you don’t have people tend to distribute other at lunch, we moved a bunch of the desks. We put up partitions or have air filters.

 

We put up cleaning and disinfecting stations. We thought through our quantities and our usage of personal protective equipment, which we always had. But now clearly everybody is using it a little bit differently. So we thought through all that stuff. And then after that, we continued to have most of our employees work from home.

 

So on any given day, I would say we probably have something like 20% of people I’m here at the factory right now. And yeah, there’s, there’s probably no one within 50 feet of me right now because all of the folks in the area where I’m sitting are able to do their job. So we kept everybody at home which allowed us to have a much less debt population in the, here in the factory for the people whose jobs require them to be physically here.

 

I’d send. Yeah. Now we have for the ventilator project in particular and for other parts of our normal business, because we have continued with our work towards our upcoming launch demo. So people that need to come in can come in and between, you know, washing their hands and covering their faces and things like that they can do.

 

So in a way, that’s allowed us to keep them healthy, to let them, and especially their families feel comfortable, you know, not to be worried when their spouse or their parents is going into work for the day and to allow them to do the hands-on work that they need to do. So from the time your boss made the call to the governor’s office and the governor’s office connected you to the state office that was working with these emergency medical supplies from that time to production to your first ventilator.

 

How quickly did that occur? That was less than a month in total. Yeah. So, uh, I think the governor and AMSA connected up to the bridge ventilator consortium. We joined their call. I forget it. It was the same day or the next day, but they had daily tag up. We joined the next one of those. Our engineers who listened in, had a nice sketch on a whiteboard.

 

I think literally within an hour of that phone call, we build our first working prototype within about three or four days that borrowed some things from existing open-source designs. And then also incorporated several of our own things that was just to sort of learn something and to learn about how to test them and to make sure that we understood the basic use cases and vocabularies.

 

And that’s something we could sort of show to a group of doctors and ask, okay, have we strip this down to bare bones? Or is this still a viable product? Uh, I think we had our next generation wholly our own design about a week later. And then another week later, I think had sort of finalized the design or come pretty close to it, enough so that we could start schooling up the production line.

 

In parallel to that, we were working on our application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA through a process that they’ve set up called emergency use authorization. So we applied for our emergency use authorization. And yet we received our emergency use authorization two days ago, which was literally one day shy of being a month from the first phone call that we joined with this bridge ventilator consortium.

 

When we got that approval, we had already just about completed our first production run of a hundred units. We’re in acceptance testing for all of those. And we’re hoping to ship out our first a hundred units, hospitals in a particular day and said that California’s emergency medical services authority within the next couple of days here.

 

So obviously they’d given you the approval. Okay. And which is phenomenal and again, from design to production in a month again, phenomenal. So when you think about that, is this something that Virgin would consider as an additional product line? Yeah, it is for now because it’s what the world needs. I’ll tell you personally, I cannot wait for the day when.

 

We no longer need to make these cars. Nobody needs them. But clearly right now, a lot of people need them really badly. I cannot tell you the volume of emails we got when we first announced that we were working on a project like this, it was totally heartbreaking. Cause we were just getting hundreds and hundreds of emails from people.

 

Basically throwing themselves on the ground and begging and saying, I need this, I need it tomorrow, please. Is there anything you could do? You know, some of them were saying, I will pay almost any amount of money. Some of them were saying, I don’t have any money, but I still need them. And it was just heart wrenching.

 

I’d tell you, you know, I feel like in aerospace, we always have a motivated workforce, but there’s nothing quite as motivating as knowing that, you know, if I put it in another hour today, I, I might. Help save somebody’s life, whether that’s stay or down the road. So, yeah, we’re sort of committing to building these things as long as we can help make a dent in the need.

 

I don’t know that we’ll be building them forever. You know, I think most of our colleagues like their jobs, building rockets and want to get back to that. But, uh, yeah, we’re trying our best to pitch in we, and like so many others we’re trying to pitch in and meet the moment right now, because this is an insane time.

 

And it’s a real challenge, I think, to our entire species. And we’re not going to get through it in good shape unless all of us are pitching. And so we’re trying to do our part. You talked about the space and aerospace community there and wanting to put in the extra hour and already being a dedicated workforce.

 

I want to pull that thread a little bit. Do you think that the space community is faster to adapt to challenging environments such as the COVID-19 pandemic? You know, I don’t know that I don’t know enough about how some of the other industries are doing it to make an intelligent comparison. But what I will say is I’ve been really encouraged for the most part.

 

As I look at other space aerospace companies and how they are responding, you know, we’ve seen lots of great examples, our sister companies, Virgin Galactic, and. The spaceship company are donating PPE. They’re building face shields. They’re now working on this cool sort of oxygen quizzes that could maybe treat some of the people who and prevent them from ever needing a ventilator.

 

I’m also seeing, you know, lots of other companies, uh, who are out there and there. Yeah, they’re 3d printing face shields, and they are, uh, collecting all their existing PPI. I’ve been so encouraged to see that. I think that because the aerospace community does tend to, as a whole, pretty universally attract, curious, creative problem, solving people who believe in a larger purpose than just earning a paycheck.

 

You know, that that’s the right environment. I think you had come up with these solutions. I think also it’s helped that, you know, we’re an industry that’s used to dealing with. Hazard analysis. That’s used to dealing with human safety, used to dealing with personal protective equipment. And so a lot of the terminology and a lot of that sort of thought process that perhaps your ordinary average, everyday American has been.

 

Thinking about in a concrete way for the first time, you know, as they read about this tragedy, you know, a lot of us were just sort of already familiar with that kind of stuff. And I hope, and I observed that that has helped a lot of aerospace professionals from every part of the community, kind of recognize this challenge for what it was pretty early on in the game, and both take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.

 

And then be free to, you know, have the mental bandwidth or the physical capacity to do more, to help others. This sounds like it’s been a pretty personally satisfying special project. Yeah, it certainly has. I probably wouldn’t work in. Something like a hundred-hour weeks on this. And I’ve got two young kids and my wife works at JPL and works long hours as well.

 

So I generally try not to do that if I can avoid it. But yeah, this has been an honor to work on and I know that I’m working hard, but a lot of my teammates are working way harder than I am or are doing much more. I really can’t say enough about how impressed I am by the other folks you’re ever in orbit.

 

And. What they are doing, is it just floors me every day when I, uh, you know, I get off my last ventilator phone call for the day at 9:00 PM or something. And then I get unrehearsed on at 7:00 AM the next day. And the amount of progress has happened even overnight. Just kind of really, it really impresses me pretty much every day nonstop for the, for the past month.

 

So I got to ask what’s the next cool special project that you and Virgin Orbit are doing right now. Huh. Well, you know, between trying to make these ventilators and to enable others, to make them both here in the U S and internationally, and then preparing for our upcoming launch demo, which is looking really, really close.

 

Now, we pulled off our last major tests on Easter Sunday. So between those and then taking care of families and just surviving throughout the pandemic, that’s got us all pretty, pretty well committed about in terms of our time and our brain power here. And honestly, if both of those succeed, I will feel.

 

Incredibly grateful and honored to have helped make some contributions in those senses. Now, the other thing that we’re looking at now on the ventilator project is it seems to me that here in the United States, the medical community in terms of their shortages is a little less troubling and worrying than it was even a couple of weeks ago between sort of finding things that had been in strategic reserve and some of the improving coordination between the States and the federal government and everything else.

 

The sort of demand that’s being forecast for things like ventilators and PPE while still, you know, there’s still an urgent and important need. It is slightly less terrifying than it was a couple of weeks ago. But that is not true in other parts of the world, you know, there are there, I think there are some really scary times to come in parts of the world, particularly in the developing world where, you know, if you thought we didn’t have enough ventilators in the state of New York, you know, go and look at entire continents where they have fewer than, than they do.

 

And, you know, one hospital system and no place like New York. So we’re trying to think about how we can. Support that need and what we can do either with our founder, Richard Branson and his philanthropic efforts and other partners of his, and then also just by taking all the lessons that we’ve learned, whether that’s the physical design of our device or going through the regulatory process for the first time or whatever else, how can we.

 

Take the ways that we’ve gotten smarter in the past month and help give everyone else the benefit of that experience so that they can do what’s best for their workforce or for their local community or for whatever else. I’ll be on a couple of phone calls liters a day where I’m sort of sharing my experience at a detailed level with things like the FDA process with a couple of other teams that are also designing ventilators or other systems like that.

 

You know, anytime we can help give a leg up to someone else who is also doing their best to meet this challenge is a really worthwhile thing to do and a very fulfilling opportunity for us. So it’s safe to say the pandemic has changed how Virgin Orbit does business. Yeah, definitely. I mean, as in everyone else, you know, we are normally a company that’s both because we’re a Virgin company, we’re a people oriented.

 

And because we have chosen like a number of other, the sort of new space companies were incredibly. Vertically integrated in our normal operations. So we’re not just assistance integrator week design on almost every portion of our launch system ourselves. We built it all. We tested all, we operated all.

 

And so normally it’s really important to us that we’ve got humans physically in the same place. Yeah. You know, all the time that we do the open office floor plan things. So that’s people from different departments are constantly rubbing elbows, and we find that that’s a great opportunity for collaboration for quick communication and for sort of fast decision making in a flat organization.

 

And obviously. You can’t do any of that right now though. Like everyone else we’ve been trying to figure out. Okay. You know, I usually run my team by having a daily standup meeting. And by going out to lunch with this person and by no check can’t now I got to do all that over WebEx. And you know how the manager, how is a contributor?

 

How do I do that? But now, you know, now that we’re, whatever it is, five or six weeks into that mode, I think we’re all getting the hang of it. I suspect a lot of us will be relieved when we don’t have to do it anymore that way, because it is hard to replace being able to look someone in the eyes and point at the thing you’re working on and go for a walk to talk through a hard problem.

 

So we’ll be excited and we can come back to that. But I think we’ve got a fairly good handle on it now, as I hope everyone else does at this point. Well, my last question for you, and I want to thank you again for your time. You’ve been most generous and taking us through how Virgin made this transition and made the, uh, contributions that it has the pandemic.

 

But yeah, you mentioned that, you know, your wife’s working at JPL. You’ve got two young kids at home, but I want you to imagine that you’re on your way to work and you come across a magic lamp. And in cleaning that lamp up, you discover the special projects. Genie pops out. And that genie is going to grant you three wishes for the Virgin special projects team to work.

 

What are those three project wishes? Let’s see. Am I allowed to say that vaccine for COVID-19 even though we’re not, Hey, that could be a special project. You know, you went from doing small sets of the engines to, uh, doing ventilators. Okay. So, uh, COVID-19 vaccine is one. What are your other two? Yeah, that definitely be the big one right now.

 

That’s definitely occupying almost all of our attention. And it’s hard to even think of anything else beyond that. If I imagine that one’s worked and now we’re in a post COVID world, and that frees me up to think about some other things I’ll say, and this is maybe a roundabout way of getting to the answer.

 

You know, I have really come to deeply love and admire the small satellite industry. I I’ve gone from being a little bit of a skeptic at first to believing that this is something that’s going to have an enormous impact on the planet, because I seen how these smaller satellites, because they can be developed so quickly because they can be developed by.

 

Both by the existing aerospace players and by people who have never done this before, how they can meet very local challenges, very nice challenges, how they can introduce disciplines that have never been interested in the space before, because they’re introduced them into the field. And we’ve just seen, so, so, so much promise, not just here in the U S but internationally in what these things can do and that.

 

You know, one of the more fragile times potentially in industry’s growth, we have this pandemic and all of its economic consequences in addition to its health and human consequences. So I suppose my other two wishes would be one, a broad industry-wide wish for all these very well-meaning very clever innovators and entrepreneurs around the world who are thinking about space projects.

 

That they financially are able to sustain and thrive throughout the economic disturbance that’s been caused by this pandemic and everything that comes after. And then that we can deliver on our promise. I think we at Virgin Orbit with our airline system, with the, you know, unique flexibility and responsiveness that it offers, I think.

 

We pretty clearly have something meaningful to offer to this community and we’re right on the precipice. So my other wish would be that we get there, that we deliver on our promise that we hit the technical requirements, that it looks like we’re on pace to hit. But we also know this is an industry that’s pretty unforgiving and there was lots of challenges.

 

So I’d love for us to be able to, to come through and do what we said we want to do and keep growing from there. Well, those are some pretty good wishes and I’m really grateful for your time and sharing that and the experiences. Um, again, what you and Virgin Orbit are doing and making technology and a space experience save lives and making a difference is tremendous.

 

And with that, that’s going to conclude this episode of Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. Please keep your eyes and ears open for more episodes by checking our social media outlets. Facebook Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. And of course our website it’s spacefoundation.org. And by all means, take a good look at what Virgin Orbit is doing.

 

They’ve got a fabulous social media presence as well as fabulous web presence and what they’ve got planned. And you’ll certainly be seeing a lot of the special projects that will has been sharing with us on those outlets as well. And finally, uh, don’t forget support like yours makes programs like space for you and everything that the Space Foundation does possible.

 

Please see our website it’s spacefoundation.org on ways to donate and support our mission because it’s our goal at the Space Foundation to inspire, educate, connect, and advocate for the space community because of the Space Foundation, we’ll always have space for you. Thank you for listening.


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Space4U Podcast: Will Pomerantz – Virgin Orbit