Enrico Palermo

Enrico Palermo’s business card not only spells out his work address in California’s Mojave Desert but also includes the specification ‘USA, EARTH’, which is appropriate given his job.

After joining Virgin Galactic in 2006, the Perth native has become a key player in helping Virgin founder Richard Branson realise his dream of creating the world’s first commercial spaceships, enabling regular passengers to travel ‘where no man has gone before’.

As Branson’s first employee at Virgin Galactic’s sister business The Spaceship Company (TSC), Enrico led the project from a business-plan concept to a thriving spaceship-design, manufacturing and test operation with more than 430 passionate and talented employees.

He says it’s a dream come true after developing an interest in space as a teenager.

While studying engineering, applied mathematics and physics at UWA, Enrico sought out diverse course topics, vacation employment positions and networking opportunities.

He credits his involvement with the inaugural UWA Motorsport (UWAM) Formula-SAE team, where he worked on the car’s wiring and electrical systems, with giving him invaluable experience in problem-solving and project management with a multi-discipline team.

After starting his engineering career at Woodside, he and wife Nadia (UWA BCom 2001) moved to London, where he thought he’d have a better chance to join the space race. A scholarship from the European Space Agency to study at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France followed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We asked Enrico what’s next in flight testing, and where he’s heading from here.

VSS Unity, the first spaceship built by The Spaceship Company, started its flight-test program just over a year ago. Since then our team has been making steady progress in expanding Unity’s glide-flight envelope – higher speeds, higher loads and performing tests of the various subsystems.

"We have a limited number of glide flights remaining until we commence powered-flight testing by lighting Unity’s rocket motor for the first time. We will then incrementally increase the burn duration of the rocket motor until we reach space, achieving the milestone of human spaceflight – one that has been the preserve of the world’s major superpowers and Mojave-based Scaled Composites who successfully flew SpaceShipOne in 2004.

“We will continue test flights to space as we test our cabin interior, training programs and operations scenarios for our waiting list of more than 600 future astronauts from 58 countries– an astronaut core that is larger than the total number of humans who have ever been to space. To serve our customer base into the future and realise the vision of the Virgin Galactic ‘spaceline’, TSC has started fabrication of the next two spaceships in Mojave, putting our spaceship production line in full swing.

“This is an incredibly exciting time, when humanity’s presence in space will grow exponentially and permanently. Our team is proud to be part of this paradigm shift and inflection point in history. Australia is now taking note of the opportunity – the recent proliferation of Australian space technology startups, as well as the decision to establish a national space agency, are very encouraging signs.”

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