by George Whitesides
Virgin Galactic CEO
During the current global crisis, we believe that the space industry has a responsibility to share expertise, knowledge, resources, and ingenuity to aid in the fight against COVID-19. That’s why, today, we are proud to share that Virgin Galactic is meeting this responsibility head-on through a Space Act Agreement with NASA.
This Space Act Agreement outlines Virgin Galactic’s commitment to developing innovative solutions to the problems facing healthcare workers on the frontlines. This is our way of ensuring that the best and brightest at Virgin Galactic can support their local communities during this challenging time and provide life-saving solutions for those suffering from COVID-19.
“The work NASA employees are doing in California is one of several examples of how the agency is contributing to the whole-of-government response to coronavirus,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “By channeling the unique skillset of our workforce and engaging private and public partners, we can make a difference in communities such as the Antelope Valley and nationwide.”
I am incredibly proud of our employees at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) for the enormous push last week in the development and testing of the PPB Hood – a device designed to support those admitted with COVID-19 with portable oxygen-rich pressure chambers, reducing the subsequent need for ventilator intubation. The team overcame shipping delays and product challenges to execute a carefully choreographed fabrication process, complete with exhaust fitting, liner leak check and repair, door installation, strap fastening, inspection, cleaning, labeling, and packaging. The result of this is an innovative patient care tool that can help make a difference for those in need. Thanks to the dedication, resilience, and creativity of this group, we are on track to produce 400 PPB Hoods at a specially constructed assembly line at our Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (FAITH) in Mojave.
The assembly line itself is a landmark effort, made up of twelve workstations, each hosting a step in the hood fabrication process, and manned by a member of a 20-strong volunteer team made up of NASA Armstrong and TSC employees. This team was supported by a further group of volunteers working behind the scenes to support design, materials procurement, and tool sourcing. These products will be made available to the Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California – where we were able to conduct pressure testing on 5 prototype hoods, and secure initial authorization for production of the full batch of 400 units of the model approved by doctors. Separately, we’re also working on conducting a further test program with Bartlett Community Hospital in Juneau, Alaska.
Virgin Galactic, together with TSC, NASA, and the Antelope Valley Hospital team, has also been working on a separate project to develop and build negative pressure enclosures – specialist equipment that covers a patient on a gurney or hospital bed. These enclosures are designed to protect medical staff by containing infected air and filtering it so that it does not contaminate the wider room environment. Virgin Galactic, together with TSC, NASA, and the Antelope Valley Hospital team, has also been working on a separate project to develop and build negative pressure enclosures – specialist equipment that covers a patient on a gurney or hospital bed. These enclosures are designed to protect medical staff by containing infected air and filtering it so that it does not contaminate the wider room environment. The team tested the first units, rapidly developed over the past week, with positive results – and are currently implementing some minor modifications to the units and will be reviewing options for FDA authorization and wider testing.
Dr. Daniel Burgin Khodabakhsh, MD, Antelope Valley Hospital said: “The innovative hoods and negative pressure enclosures that are being built by this aerospace collaboration will save lives and keep healthcare works from getting sick in the fight against Covid-19. We in the AV Hospital Emergency Room are grateful and have also been inspired as we have worked on the development of equipment that can help others across the world.”
Virgin Galactic is proud to be playing an active role in the Antelope Valley COVID-19 Task Force alongside NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Antelope Valley College, The Spaceship Company, and the City of Lancaster, CA. Early in the outbreak, this task force came together with a shared mission to develop the solutions needed to protect healthcare workers and save lives. With daily meetings and rigorous design and production efforts, the Antelope Valley COVID-19 Task Force is bringing together our community in the spirit of innovation to provide much-needed assistance.
Our work is far from over – the Space Act Agreement announced today outlines a series of significant milestones over the next several weeks. These milestones mark Virgin Galactic’s and The Spaceship Company’s next steps towards manufacturing, testing, and perfecting the patient hoods. I am enormously proud of the contributions of our team, whose dedication in the face of adversity inspires me greatly. With this Space Act Agreement, we chart our next steps forward as a company and as proud members of a global community, committed to doing our best when times are at their hardest. I am confident that we will emerge from this global health crisis stronger and better prepared than ever to set our sights on new horizons and continue in the fulfillment of Virgin Galactic’s mission – overcoming challenges, exploring the unknown, and using space for good.