In the newly created executive role, Whitesides will focus on “developing the Company’s future business opportunities, including point-to-point hypersonic travel and orbital space travel,” the company said. Those new avenues could become multi-billion-dollar businesses, Whitesides has said. He will also chair the Virgin Galactic’s Space Advisory Board.

Virgin Galactic is entering a final phase of testing and regulatory clearances before it starts flying passengers, which explains the C-suite transition. The company has seen numerous setbacks, including a crash that killed a test pilot, in achieving its goal of routine civilian spaceflight, which Branson had predicted would start more than a decade ago. Virgin Galactic plans to unveil the interior design of its centerpiece suborbital rocket ship, SpaceShipTwo, later this month.

Colglazier said on a Wednesday conference call with investors that he’d always dreamed of becoming an astronaut as a kid and that he “is going to be flying” on SpaceShipTwo in the future.

In a recent interview, Whitesides said Virgin Galactic hopes to claim a fraction of the airline industry’s premium long-haul travel business, which totals about $300 billion a year.

“If we can just capture 5% or something like that, then it’s still a huge number. I mean, $10 to $15 billion of revenue is is a massive opportunity,” Whitesides told Business Insider in May, adding that he believes people will pay to travel faster in smaller vehicles. “The things that we’re working on are very much part of our aviation future.”

The field for such operations is wide open, given that the supersonic airliner Concorde retired in 2003. That’s not to say it will be easy or inexpensive to reclaim, improve, and expand. But Whitesides thinks Virgin Galactic is up to the challenge, even in the face of prior failures to create new supersonic and even hypersonic passenger vehicles.

“The words ‘many companies have tried’ is music to my ears,” Whitesides has said. “People said we couldn’t build up human spaceflight company. People say we couldn’t go public.”

In a statement, Branson lauded both men for taking on the new roles:

“I want to thank George for his outstanding leadership of Virgin Galactic over the last decade. He has shown dedication and determination as its first CEO to build the Company from early stage development through to space flight, the first from American soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. In the past year, George has taken the Company public and moved it to Spaceport America. He transitions into his new role as Chief Space Officer having created substantial value as CEO and with Galactic poised for an exciting next chapter.”

“At the same time, we are delighted to welcome Michael as the new Chief Executive to lead Galactic into commercial operations. I believe Michael’s long and distinguished career at one of the world’s leading customer experience brands provides a natural fit with Virgin’s culture as well as Galactic’s requirements as it prepares for commercial service.”

During Wednesday’s call, Chamath Palihapitiya, chairman of Virgin Galactic, said Colglazier’s skills and experience in building multi-billion-dollar consumer-facing businesses is exactly what the company needs to move forward as customers and their families begin traveling to Spaceport America in the deserts of New Mexico for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

In his statement, Palihapitiya also hinted that Virgin Galactic could see its first passenger flight — that of Branson himself — before the end of 2020.

“[Colglazier will] be, frankly, an invaluable addition to our company as we are now within months of commercial operations,” Palihapitiya said. “I’m really confident he’s going to create an amazing customer experience for our future astronauts. … We’ve all talked about how we can create an incredible experience not just for the astronauts, but everybody that comes to Spaceport America. I think Michael understands how to do that.”