As the USA’s finest sporting exports hit our shores, the resulting waves are washing over the wider UK events industry, spawning new approaches to audience engagement.
“Between 1900-1920 we went from zero cars on the road to having 35 million cars, trucks and buses,”
…Former Virgin Galactic CEO Will Whitehorn says. “We suddenly had mass communication taking place, and safe drugs were available. So when someone says we can’t cope with the pace of change, tell them we’ve been through this before.”
Sometimes characterised as serial entrepreneur Richard Branson’s ‘right-hand man’, Whitehorn met Access after a space-themed ‘BigTalk’ event at creative communications agency DRPG’s offices to talk events, space and climate change. His musings provided (vacuum-packed?) food for thought for eventprofs worldwide.
Putting the ‘launch’ into product launch
Virgin Galactic is one of three billionaire-owned companies currently locked in fierce competition to bring space tourism to the masses. Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin form its well-qualified opposition.
Set to float on the New York stock exchange later this year, Branson is believed to have invested around US$880m in Virgin Galactic since its inception in 2007. The company plans to launch the first commercial flights next year and the company forecasts revenues will hit $431m by 2023.
For the events industry – aside from the bragging rights and mind-blowing potential offered by events in zero gravity – there are tangential points of interest.
“There has already been an event held in space, of sorts,” Whitehorn tells Access. “Elon Musk already did it, and it was a marketing stunt in space, but space travel will go commercial next year, and it’ll be a two-and-a-half hour round trip, so the potential is big.”
Elon Musk’s ambitious stunt on 6 February 2018 saw his companies, Tesla and SpaceX, propel a cherry red Tesla Roadster into space. The car was outfitted with cameras to capture the views and carried a dummy pilot, a digital copy of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book series Foundation, and a plaque engraved with 6,000 SpaceX employees’ names
Space age venues
This is just one of the many innovative initiatives Whitehorn has been involved with and his space-age thinking has already improved some venues on earth. Whitehorn, now chairman of the Scottish Event Campus, applied his thinking to Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, which is now the second busiest indoor arena in the world.
“The industrial decline in Britain in the 70s was desperate, and had really affected the docks in Glasgow. Nobody expected something like the Hydro to work, but as technology had evolved, thanks in part to space research, more became possible. I got a call from an architect from Foster + Partners who designed the Space Port, and he ended up designing the Hydro with the same geodesic roof design, with no pillars.
“We went to The O2 arena in London, and found out that audiences wanted better acoustics and design. So we went to Holland, Italy, and even the Colosseum in Rome and planned the SEC from there. All the equipment at the venue can be hidden under the floor, and the furthest away seat is nearer than the closest seat at The O2. We took ideas from the Space Port project and changed them, like using inflatable plastic to insulate sound.
“The SEC has been a huge success story, and we’re going to create the best centre in the whole of Europe to capture those events we can’t capture now. We’re building an entire temporary structure for a climate change event in December 2020. We’re tendering for contractors at the moment and it’s funded by the government.”
But could a functional venue eventually exist in space itself? Well, yes according to Whitehorn. “A Von Braun wheel was designed in 1955, and you see that concept in 2001: A Space Odyssey, so if you could create that, you could have gravity in space.”
It’s not without its risks however. “Space junk could be created from events, but it’s the equivalent of one car on the M25 motorway. I had dinner with astronaut Tim Peake last night, and he said there was a piece of debris that flew very close, and if it had gone through someone’s brains, they’d have died.”
There could be a solution to this floating impedimenta soon, however. “It’s often tiny bits of debris left over from 70s and 80s missions. I’m currently working on getting funding for a company to make a satellite to clear the debris up,” he adds.
What’s certain is that the possibility of events in space is awe-inspiringly close. “We’re revolutionising the cost of space technology and getting in and out, and many companies will benefit from this. Richard Branson gets to go up to space in November, the first commercial customer, and I’ve got a ticket for next year on standby, which is very exciting.”
“Can we imagine space adventure experiences like a trip around the moon, or space station events where business leaders are shuttled to ‘space festival’ stations”
Looking up to look forward
Further innovations are strengthening the cost model for space travel. Relativity Space, an LA-based start-up, was recently added to a growing list of firms to truly innovate with large-scale 3D printing, and their planning to print an entire rocket… well, 95% of it, with the exceptions being some electronics, cables and rubber gaskets.
Relativity has just received $140m worth of Series C funding towards its overarching aim of being the first company to launch an (almost) entirely 3D printed rocket into orbit.
Some major players clearly believe the opportunity is real and huge, says MCI Experience’s managing director Kim Myhre. “Significant capital is being amassed, with billions of dollars being poured into private space companies. UBS estimates that the broader space industry is worth about $400bn today and could double in value by 2030. So, no wonder the likes of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are betting big on this still nascent industry.
Myhre spots an opportunity for events in space as travel times decrease. “Among the mind-boggling range of potential space tourism opportunities, the sector most talked about today is high speed space travel. The potential is to cut international air travel between destination over 10 hours from 15 hours to under 45 minutes. This is game changing. Today cost is prohibitive, but advances and technology and scale are expected to continue to drive costs down and viability up.
“But space travel is only one of the many future possibilities. Can we imagine space adventure experiences like a trip around the moon, or space station events where business leaders are shuttled to ‘space festival’ stations? Why not? As the events industry continues to search for the next most unique, exclusive and memorable settings for events we could all be heading into space sooner that we think.”
“As Access went to press, happenstance struck when Samsung proved our premise that space-based events will be a popular focus”
Samsung takes to the stars
As Access went to press on this issue, happenstance struck when Samsung proved our premise that space-based events will be a popular focus.
On 16 October, the electronics giant launched ‘The SpaceSelfie mission’ to promote theGalaxy S10 5G. The promotion gives consumers the chance to get their face in space.
Working alongside innovation partner Unit9 and aerospace partner Flightline Films, Samsung looked to push the potential of mobile technology.
Benjamin Braun, chief marketing officer, Samsung Europe. “We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible and with SpaceSelfie, we will show that amazing things continue to happen using Samsung technology – even from the edge of space.”
A super-pressure High Altitude Balloon half the size of a basketball court (10.5m x 18m) will ascend from a launch pad in South Dakota, carrying a bespoke ‘payload box’ in which the S10 5G is held, to reach up to 64,900 ft.
The payload is designed to ensure the best quality photos are captured by factoring in the earth’s curvature and reflective light from the sun, whose solar energy powers both the payload and the S10 5G itself.
An app, specifically designed for the S10 5G, communicates with the still camera on the rig, commanding it to take the photo of a selfie displayed on the device’s screen. The S10 app then tells the ground app to send the image back to earth and from there it is delivered direct to the consumer.
The S10 5G was subjected to rigorous pre-launch testing and was able to withstand temperatures of up to -65°C.