by Douglas Messier
Richard Branson’s Mojave-based space companies have seen two high-level departures in recent months as they prepare to launch SpaceShipTwo on a spaceflight for the first time.
Doug Shane has left his position as chairman of The Spaceship Company (TSC), which builds SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo mother ships, and propulsion systems for Virgin Galactic.
Shane remains a member of the company’s board of advisors. A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company has not replaced Shane as chairman.
Jonathan Firth, who served as executive vice president of spaceport and program development, has also left Virgin Galactic after 14 years with the company. Firth’s Linkin page indicates he has left Virgin Galactic but does not say when he did so.
Firth’s job involved working with Spaceport America in New Mexico, where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant, as well as other groups around the world that want to host flights of the Virgin Galactic’s space planes.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman wished Firth well, but he did not comment further.
Shane’s Linkedin biography indicates that last month he became general manager and vice president of sales and marketing at Perfect Point EDM in Huntington Beach, Calif. The company provides equipment to the aerospace industry for quickly removing fasteners.
Shane joined The Spaceship Company in July 2013 after a 31-year career with Scaled Composites. He had previously served as president and, previous to that, executive vice president of Burt Rutan’s company at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
During Shane’s tenure at Scaled, the company constructed and tested the first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise, and its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, VMS Eve, for Virgin Galactic. After the destruction of Enterprise during a flight test in October 2014, Scaled Composites ended its involvement in the program.
Shane’s Linkedin biography omits his role as TSC chairman, which is how he was listed on previous versions of Virgin Galactic’s website. Instead, it identifies him as a TSC advisory board member from July 2013 to present.
The departures come as Virgin Galactic has entered the final phases of flight tests for the second SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity. Last month, Branson said he expected Unity to make a flight to space within “weeks, not months”. It is a milestone Virgin Galactic has been working toward since Branson launched the project in 2004.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has said that he expects the spacecraft to make at least one additional powered flight test by the end of the year.
The company plans to begin commercial service next year from Spaceport America. Branson will be a passenger on the first commercial flight.