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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Artemis I Carries the Future of NASA with It

The Space Launch System rocket fairing with ESA and NASA logos on the launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The new ESA logo and NASA’s ‘worm’ logo will be along for the ride on the first full mission of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Of the six launches known to be scheduled to close out August, there’s only one – Artemis I — that truly matters in any real sense. The others will be duly recorded but little remembered in what could be the busiest launch year in human history.

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Virgin Galactic Appoints Matt Boguradzki as VP of Sales and Strategy

TUSTIN, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced that former Rolls-Royce executive Matthew Boguradzki has been appointed Vice President, Sales and Strategy, effective today.

Boguradzki will lead Virgin Galactic’s sales team, supporting the Company’s commercial growth and developing its thriving customer community. He will oversee all sales efforts including strategy, sourcing, negotiation, and client management, and will report to Blair Rich, President and Chief Business Officer, Commercial and Consumer Operations.

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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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World View Assembles Space Flight Safety Experts from NASA, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin to Establish Safety Program and Technical Oversight Committee

The new team builds on World View’s existing safety protocols as the company readies for human flights in 2024

High-altitude crew capsule. (Credit: World View Enterprises)

TUSCON, Ariz. (World View PR)World View, the leading stratospheric exploration and space tourism company, hired three new industry experts to establish and lead a new safety program that includes the company’s testing and safety protocols ahead of human space flights starting in 2024. The new personnel will build on World View’s existing safety protocols and risk assessment procedures that have successfully guided more than 100 uncrewed flights and remote sensing missions for commercial and government customers. In turn, the committee’s work will provide the additional measures needed for World View to begin space tourism missions in two years.

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Virgin Galactic Selects Boeing Subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to Build 2 New WhiteKnightTwo Aircraft

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
  • Agreement with Aurora Flight Sciences to Deliver Two Vehicles, Each Designed to Fly Up To 200 Launches Per Year
  • First New Mothership Expected to Enter Service in 2025
  • Outsourced Manufacturing Approach Will Improve Speed to Market, Provide Access to Labor Pools, Minimize Supply Chain Disruption, and Realize Efficiencies

TUSTIN, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced an agreement with Aurora Flight Sciences (“Aurora”), a Boeing company, to partner in the design and manufacturing of the Company’s next generation motherships. The mothership is the air launch carrier aircraft in Virgin Galactic’s space flight system, that carries the spaceship to its release altitude of approximately 50,000 feet.

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Tom Markusic Out as Firefly CEO 3 Months After AEI Takes Majority Stake in Rocket Company

Tom Markusic and Lauren Lyons in front of Firefly Alpha rocket on the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Firefly Aerospace co-founder Tom Markusic is out as CEO, a move that comes three months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI) led a $75 million Series B funding round and completed its acquisition of a majority stake in the rocket company.

Firefly announced this week that Markusic transitioned to the role of full-time board member and chief technical advisor on Thursday, June 16. He remains “a significant minority investor” in the company, which is preparing for the second flight test of its Alpha small-satellite booster.

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Virgin Galactic Delays Start of Commercial Service to 2023, Loses $93 Million

VSS Unity in flight on July 11, 2021. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s quarterly reports have fallen into a familiar pattern since the company went public 2.5 years ago. Optimistic talk about past and future progress is mixed in with a large net loss and another delay in the start of commercial service that was originally forecast to begin back in 2007.

Richard Branson’s space tourism company didn’t fail to disappoint on Thursday. The net loss for Q1 2022 was $93 million, which was higher than Q4 2021 net loss of $81 million but less than the $130 million loss for the first quarter of 2021.

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Former Virgin Group Senior Partner Joins Seraphim Space’s Investment Team

LONDON (Seraphim Space PR) — Seraphim Space Manager LLP, the manager of Seraphim Space Investment Trust plc, the world’s first listed Space Tech Fund, is delighted to announce that Patrick McCall, former Senior Partner of Virgin Group, will join the company.

Patrick joins Seraphim as a Venture Partner following a long and distinguished career in the space, communication and transport sector, He worked for two decades in the senior team driving the expansion of the Virgin Group and as the Chair of Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. His achievements include financing the development of Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, culminating in the flotations of both companies. He also played a key role in agreeing the launch agreement for Virgin Orbit from the Spaceport in Cornwall later this year.

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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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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.