Female Houston founder on her dream of making high-speed, international travel a reality

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Venus

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby is on a mission to get people home in time for dinner — whether they are traveling around the world or working for her business. That's why she founded Venus Aerospace, which is developing hypersonic space planes. It's also why she relocated the company from the West Coast to Houston.

"We knew we had to find a location where we could test our engine and still be home for dinner," Duggleby says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our company vision is 'home for dinner.' We want to fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. And, if you work for us, we want you home for dinner."

Venus's technology enables this revolutionary travel through its supersonic combustion engine — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — that allows for travel at a higher elevation, she explains on the show. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally. And, as Duggleby explains, the engine can go further with the same amount of fuel, so it's a more sustainable way of traveling too.

"Our ultimate goal is to go with completely carbon-free propellants. There are fuel choices we could make that would be carbon free, but the biggest challenge is continuous operability," she says, explaining that there would then need to be green fuels at whatever airport Venus aircrafts land in to refuel. "You've got to stand up an entirely green ecosystem across the globe. But I think the world would handle that."

The company's developed engine right now works with jet fuel and hydrogen peroxide, a source that can be made without any carbon emissions, she says.

Duggleby founded Venus Aerospace with her husband and CTO Andrew in 2020. The two worked for Virgin Orbit before leaving to start Venus, relocating to Houston in 2021 and setting up shop in a hangar at Ellington Field in the Houston Spaceport. Last year, Venus raised a $20 million series A round.

Once a scrappy team of three people, Venus Aerospace now has almost 100 employees. When thinking about the challenges she's facing, Duggleby says she knows how to navigate the engineering journey the technology faces and she knows they face regulatory obstacles ahead too. Something Duggleby, recently named to Inc. magazine's Female Founders list, is focused on these days — with the pace of growth at the company — is staying true to the company culture she founded since day one.

"There's a constant tension to grow, grow, grow, and build out bigger systems, versus take what you have now and get it really great," she says on the show, recognizing that aerospace work environments tend to have more toxic and competitive cultures. "As important as the technology that we're building is, it's also just as important who we are and how we treat our people."

Duggleby shares more of her story on the podcast, as well as her observations on the space tech industry, Houston's role in the ecosystem, and more. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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