ISPCS Session: Closing the Credibility Gap With XCOR, Armadillo and Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo glides downward. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

ISPCS Session

Closing the Credibility Gap: The Role of Suborbital Testing as a Pathfinder to Orbital Markets or as an End Market in Itself

Debra Facktor Lepore — President, DFL Space LLC
Jeff Greason — CEO, XCOR
Julia Tizard — Operations Manager, Virgin Galactic
Neil Milburn — VP of Program Management, Armadillo Aerospace

Jeff Greason – XCOR

— founders of XCOR had come off a project where the used all state-of-the-art technology
— seen occasions where you could spend months trying to get everything to work…you can test things faster than modeling them…
— engines model themselves very well…
— find the appropriate level of detail for modeling…
— maintenance and man-hours per flight must be extremely low in order to have affordable reusable transport
— when the designers are the operators, it’s easier and cheaper to get changes made
— just finished an additional test series of three weeks on the Lynx engine — showed some video

Julia Tizard – Virgin Galactic

— commercial viability and credibility and all the testing that it requires
— many different elements and different stakeholders with different definitions of viability and credibility
— spend a great amount of time understanding customers and their needs — testing how show that the project is viable for majority of the customers
— flight tests are to get the bugs out of the system — 150 hours in test flight so far and have been expanding the envelope
— WK2 and SS2 have key systems in common — can test systems on WK2 and the vehicles are very redundant – can use WK2 to train pilots
— SS2 couldn’t do the usual short hop test flight off the runway…needed to do a drop test
— SS2 rocket motor is in full testing in preparation for test flights next year

Neil Milburn – Armadillo Aerospace

— must prove themselves to bankers, insurance companies, FAA-AST
— really good relationship with FAA-AST
— Ultimately, customers rule!
— Philosophy: build a lot, test a lot, fly frequently, break a few things
— Now working with NASA on various projects, next generation rocket racer, and CRuSR flights (NASA)
— Haven’t always won competitions, but a rising tide raises all boats
— Will be flying a vehicle out here at Spaceport America in a couple of weeks — will have dozens of launches
— One of the test vehicles they’re working on will turn into their suborbital vehicle
— Darwinian approach to testing: what works works, and that will be incorporated into the next vehicle

Debra Facktor Lepore — DFL Space LLC

Showed some video of drop testing an Air Launch rocket. Tested it on the ground and from the aircraft; deployments went well. When they put the data into the computer model, it said that the rocket would hit the C-17. So, modeling can only go so far.


— test test test will convince customers of credibility
— ability to use these vehicles as test beds for other technologies is going to be a great market for them
— can fly it in the space environment 20-30 times within the space of a year….will be much easier for you to go to funders…
— vehicles will be a powerful force to accelerate technology in space-related fields…

Neil Milburn

— a lot of testing needed…may need some clean underwear when we get done with them…

Jeff Greason

— In the time it took to model one element, we tested three other ones…none of them performed as model predicted…
— become a big fan of testing as opposed to just modeling it on a super computer
— May take three months to build a model, but you get the data points in seconds
— Need to balance computer modeling and testing…

Debra Facktor Lepore

— DARPA and Air Force have very different testing standards…
— DARPA is more into rapid prototyping while Air Force wants a finished product
— How do you apply it when you’re building something new…

Neil Lepore

— We have a good relationship with FAA-AST on testing…

Julie Tizard

Q: What is it like to test in a public way?

— Supportive of the way that Scaled Composites wants to do its testing — privately and secretly…
— Virgin needs to market themselves…cost/risk trade from a business perspective

Jeff Greason

— Consumers of this news need to become more sophisticated about how they process it
— Need to explain that things don’t always go well the first time…if we get that message across, then the tolerance for failure may return