China’s Suborbital Space Tourism Ambitions Heat Up as Two Companies Seek to Challenge Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic

CAS Space crewed suborbital vehicle in flight. (Credit: CAS Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Two Chinese companies — CAS Space and Space Transportation — are pursuing the suborbital tourism market, with the former closely copying Blue Origin’s fully reusable New Shepard vehicle and the latter developing a winged vehicle that could be adapted for hypersonic point-to-point travel between distant locations on Earth.

CAS Space, a.k.a., Guangzhou Zhongke Aerospace Exploration Technology Co., Ltd., is developing a single-stage reusable rocket that lands under its own power topped with a capsule that descends under three parachutes.

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Commercial Space Travelers Outnumbered Professional Astronauts in First Half of 2022

Axiom Mission 1 astronauts, left to right, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Michael López-Alegría, and Eytan Stibbe. The astronauts are approved by NASA and its international partners for Axiom Space’s first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. (Credits: Chris Gunn – Axiom Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.

Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.

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JAXA & Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance to Cooperate on Developing Space Travel Insurance Business

TOKYO (JAXA/Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. PR) –– Sumitomo Mitsui Marine Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. (President: Shinichiro Funabuchi) of MS & AD Insurance Group and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA, Chairman: Hiroshi Yamakawa) aim to create space-related businesses with new ideas. Under the framework of “JAXA Space Innovation Partnership (J-SPARC)”, we started co-creation activities related to “Space Travel Insurance Business” in July 2022.

Details of co-creation activities

Currently, insurance for space travel is not yet in full swing. The reason is none other than the small number of space travelers. Under such circumstances, 2021 was called the “first year of space travel,” and for the first time in history, the number of space travelers exceeded the number of professional astronauts. Now that space travel by various means has been realized or proposed, space travel insurance that meets the needs is required. Sumitomo Mitsui Marine and JAXA are co-creating activities related to “product development of space travel insurance” and “support for expanding the space travel market”, and by creating and disseminating the “space travel insurance” that is now needed. It adds peace of mind to space travel and contributes to the expansion of humankind’s economic sphere.

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Virtuoso Partners with Virgin Galactic for Ticket Sales Referral Program

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Virtuoso adds spaceflight partner to its exclusive global portfolio
  • Limited number of remaining seats available to Virtuoso’s global client base

NEW YORK & TUSTIN, Calif. (Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic PR) — Virtuoso®, the leading global network specializing in luxury and experiential travel, and Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced a strategic partnership to make a limited number of seats for Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight experience available to Virtuoso’s global client base.

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Virgin Galactic Announces New Spaceship Manufacturing Facility in Mesa, Arizona

Credit: Virgin Galactic

MESA, Ariz., July 14, 2022 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced it has signed a long-term lease for a new final assembly manufacturing facility for its next-generation Delta class spaceships. Located in Mesa, Greater Phoenix area, adjacent to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the facility will be capable of producing up to six spaceships per year and will bring hundreds of highly skilled aerospace engineering and manufacturing jobs to the area.

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Suborbital Spaceflight by the Numbers

New Shepard launches on its 21st flight of the program on June 4, 2022. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Part II of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 was a busy period in suborbital space with 23 launches conducted that did not involve tests of ballistic missiles or defensive systems. Twelve people flew above the Karman line, new boosters and space technologies were tested, and the first commercial suborbital launch was conducted from Australia. And some science was done.

We covered the above mentioned flights in depth in a story published on Tuesday. In this piece we’ll look a broader look at who launched what, when, where, why and on what.

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Virgin Galactic Sees Departure of Chief Legal Officer & Director of Safety as Company Fights Lawsuits

Michelle Kley (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic has seen the departures of its director of safety and chief legal officer over the past month.

Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Michelle Kley is leaving Virgin Galactic as of July 19 after two years and seven months with the company. She will become chief legal officer at Volta, a company that runs an electric vehicle charging network.

Her departure comes as Virgin Galactic battles lawsuits from unhappy shareholders who claim to have lost money since the company went public more than 2.5 years ago.

Kley joined Virgin Galactic as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary in December 2019. She previously served as senior vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary at Maxar Technologies from July 2016 to March 2019.

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A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own

New Shepard lands after the NS-21 flight. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

Part I of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For decades, the suborbital launch sector was largely a backwater. Militaries tested ballistic missiles, scientists conducted experiments, and engineers tested new technologies. A sounding rocket is small potatoes compared with orbital rocket launches and the glamor of human spaceflight. Few people paid much attention.

All that has changed in recent years as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and their billionaire owners — Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — started launching themselves and others on suborbital joyrides. Startups have been conducting suborbital flight tests of new orbital launch vehicles designed to serve the booming smalls satellite market. Suborbital has become a much more interesting sector.

This year has been no exception. The first half of 2022 saw Blue Origin send 12 people into space on two New Shepard flights, a Chinese company conduct six launches in a program to develop aa suborbital spaceplane and hypersonic transport, South Korea and Iran perform flight tests of three different smallsat launchers, Germany test technologies for reusable rockets, and first-ever commercial launch from Australia. And, a great deal of science was done.

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More Cryptonauts to be Announced

MoonDAO is set to announce the winners of trips to space on Saturday. The company is running a contest in which winners mint a non-fungible token (NFT) that essentially serves as a ticket in a lottery. MoonDAO said it has purchased several tickets from Blue Origin for a suborbital flight aboard New Shepard.

MoonDAO is not alone in running contests for space trips using cryptocurrency. A 28-year old civil production engineer from Brazil named Victor Correa Hespanha claimed the title of the world’s first cryptonaut when he flew to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle last Saturday. To reach space, Hespanha bought a non-fungible token (NFT) for a contest run by the Crypto Space Agency.

The Space Coin Project has launched a similar project to launch cryptonauts into space. You can read more about these efforts here.

One Small Step for a Man, One Giant Leap for Cryptokind.

A Small Step for a Man, One Giant Leap for Cryptokind

The world’s first cryptonaut, Victor Correa Hespanha, gets a high five as he emerges from the New Shepard capsule after his spaceflight. (Credit: Blue Origin)

There’s a new space agency and category of space explorer. Earth and space will never be the same.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

First, there were astronauts. Then billionauts and millionauts. And now, there’s…cryptonauts!?

A 28-year old civil production engineer from Brazil named Victor Correa Hespanha claimed the title of the first cryptonaut when he flew to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle last Saturday. Although his time above the Karman line lasted mere minutes, Victor was able to claim to be the second Brazilian to reach space.

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Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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Roscosmos Looks to Make Space Tourist Training Even Shorter

The three new residents aboard the station (front row, from left) are Russian actress Yulia Peresild, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and Russian Producer Klim Shipenko. In the back, are Expedition 65 crew members Shane Kimbrough, Oleg Novitskiy, Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Pyotr Dubrov, Mark Vande Hei, and Akihiko Hoshide. (Credit: NASA TV)

TASS reports that it is theoretically possible to reduce the time it takes to train a non-professional astronaut (aka, space tourists or spaceflight participants) to fly to orbit aboard the Soyuz spacecraft to under the current four months. Paying customers used to spend months in training prior to a flight.

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Report: UAE Working with Blue Origin to Establish Spaceport, Ends Agreement with Virgin Galactic

New Shepard takes off with six passengers on Dec. 11, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin website)

At the end of a long article about the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) efforts to develop a virbrant space industry, The National revealed this bit of news from Ibrahim Al Qasim, deputy director general of the UAE Space Agency.

Mr Al Qasim revealed to The National that the agreement that was signed in 2019 with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to bring space tourism flights to Al Ain Airport is no longer in effect, without explaining further.

Instead, the country is now working with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to set up spaceports.

He said discussions with the company, which has already flown 20 people on its suborbital flights, are under way.

Any agreement to fly Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle would be dependent upon a technology safeguards agreement between the UAE and the United States. An agreement with New Zealand allows Rocket Lab to launch Electron rockets from the company’s spaceport on Mahia Peninsula. Brazil has signed an agreement that will allow U.S. companies to launch from the Alcantara Space Center.

The UAE state of Abu Dhabi has been a major investor in Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly suborbital tourism flights aboard SpaceShipTwo. In 2009, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments put in $280 million for a 31.7 percent share of Richard Branson’s space company. Aabar later invested an additional $100 million for a 38.7 percent share of Virgin Galactic.

The additional $100 million investment was intended to help finance the development of a small satellite booster that would be air launched from WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft when it wasn’t used for SpaceShipTwo suborbital flights. A new company, Virgin Orbit, split off from Virgin Galactic. The company dumped plans to use WhiteKnightTwo; instead, it uses a larger booster, LauncherOne, that is dropped from a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl.