Space Tourism

Space Tourism MBA Dissertation – 2006

The purpose of this research project was to look at the viability of establishing a low cost sub-orbital space business in the UK. In recent years, most space rocket launches have been conducted by government funded space agencies around the world.  These agencies command multi-billion dollar budgets to develop space related equipment and launch services. The high cost of accessing these launch services restricts the amount of research that can be conducted by the scientific and university communities. Sub-orbital launch services such as Sounding Rockets provide an ideal low cost, flexible launch platform however a dedicated launch service for UK universities does not currently exist.

starchaser1In recent years, a few high net worth individuals have paid significant amounts of money to fly aboard Russian space craft. These individuals, or Space Tourists, have ignited the general public’s interest in the future potential of the space tourism industry. Once again, high costs and limited launch services will restrict growth of this industry unless a number of non-government funded commercial space companies are established and are able to compete in this new and exciting industry sector.

This project undertook research to establish whether a low cost UK space business could be established to address these two market requirements, namely a service for launching scientific based payloads into sub-orbital space and a launch service to meet the needs of the emerging space tourism market. The aim of this project was to ultimately determine whether a low cost venture could be established without the need for government funding.

sc1Starchaser Industries is one such private company that is looking to enter this new and potentially lucrative industry sector.  Based in Manchester, UK, this company has strived to develop a private sub-orbital launch service that could help to kick start a new generation of space based services. I first got to know Starchaser in 2000 when my old company PTC provided sponsorship in the form of computer aided design software to allow Starchaser to design their reusable launch vehicle.  Through this partnership I was fortunate to work closely with Starchaser, helping the company to define their brand and providing advice on how to market their business and seek future funding.  Through this initial work I then decided to write my dissertation around the sub-orbital launch market. The diagram below shows a competitive map of the key sub-orbital launch vehicle providers that were entering the market in 2005.

marketThis particular project was unique at the time as it was one of the very first MBA dissertations in the world to look at the sub-orbital launch market. The dissertation also included a quantitive study around people’s opinions on space tourism and a more qualitative survey around the potential of the commercial launch business.  At the time of starting this project, Virgin Galactic won the XPRIZE and I decided to benchmark Starchaser against Virgin Galactic to see what it would take to get Starchaser up to a similar level to Virgin Galactic.  In addition to providing a general overview of the sub-orbital space tourism and launch services businesses, I also proposed a business plan for Starchaser, conducted a competitive analysis between Starchaser and Virgin Galactic and finally I conducted an extensive review of the two surveys. I received a distinction for this dissertation. I have provided direct links to five interesting videos below.

History of StarchaserStarchaser LaunchesStarchaser Thunderstar CGIIntroduction to Virgin GalacticSpace Tourism Documentary

Recent Virgin Galactic Presentation

Through my work on my dissertation I contacted Virgin Galactic to see if they would be available to present at the OpenText GXS Customer Forum in March 2014.  Stephen Attenborugh, employee number one of Virgin Galactic and Commercial Director, provided an inspiring presentation on how Virgin Galactic has evolved over the years.  Virgin Galactic plans to take its first paying space tourists in late 2014.


Virgin Galactic’s launch vehicle is unique as it a two piece solution consisting of a mothership and a smaller detachable craft which separates from the mothership once a specific height is reached.  This is an incredibly clever design which allows both craft to be reused.  In addition, as the mothership is made entirely of carbon fibre it means that any type of heavy payload can be carried underneath.  This opens up opportunities for Virgin Galactic to enter the commercial sector as well at a later date.


The aerospace industry has so far failed to find a successor to the famous Concorde supersonic aircraft.  But needless to say that Richard Branson could leverage the technology being used by Virgin Galactic today to help develop a Concorde replacement. The introduction of strategically placed spaceports around the world could see the introduction of a high speed logistics service.  Either for deploying low orbit payloads such as satellites or delivering expedited shipments between North America and the Far East for example.


During Stephen’s presentation, we had someone transcribing his presentation inta visual representation of his presentation slides. The image below was created on a 2m by 1m sized graphics panel, please click on the image to review full screen.


Space Tourism MBA Dissertation – 2006

I have posted my dissertation to my SlideShare account and I have included a link to this below.  With Virgin Galactic scheduled to launch their new service in late 2014, I thought this dissertation would help to provide a good introduction and general overview to the sub-orbital launch market.

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