Seattle, Mojave Duel to be Silicon Valley of Space

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

With last week’s visit of Elon Musk and his announcement of a new facility to design and build a 4,000-satellite constellation, Seattle Weekly is reviving the region’s claim to be the “Silicon Valley of space.”

That might be a bit of a surprise to Silicon Valley, the home of some cool space start-ups and the source (via Google) of a lot of Musk’s satellite money.

The moniker is also probably surprising to some folks in Mojave, which also has staked its claim to that title from time to time. Valley Public Radio talks to Mojave Air and Space Port CEO/General Manager Stu Witt and Leonard David of Space.com about Mojave, commercial space and the loss of SpaceShipTwo.

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It’s a bit of a disappointing discussion. Both Leonard and Stu appear more afraid of the government coming in with regulations than they are of Scaled continuing to kill people on this program. Ten years, four deaths and one wrecked spaceship later, and this program hasn’t come anywhere near space.

That’s not exactly a shining example of NewSpace competency. And shouldn’t that raise some basic questions about Scaled, its design and safety protocols, and Virgin Galactic’s rush to move forward?

And, as the FAA’s George Nield has pointed out, these guys aren’t exactly the Wright brothers. They’re not inventing a new mode of transportation from whole cloth. People have been flying into space for more than 50 years. There’s a lot of good, proven safety practices out there. Without some mandatory regulations, Nield fears that some irresponsible operator will ruin it for everyone in the industry.

That’s the argument, anyway. Whether you agree with it or not, it would have been nice if it had come up in the discussion. I guarantee you it will be a point of contention at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference next month.

  • jamesmuncy

    Doug,

    Industry has asked FAA/AST for their top safety concerns that they would regulate about for years. AST has produced a useful “established practices” document that is helping industry think through design/operations issues. But AST does not need to regulate to provide good advice to industry. They can do that now. And if any lessons learned come out of the event on October 31st, AST is authorized to write a regulation about that *now*. The only “moratorium” is on regulation not informed by actual flight data showing a problem exists.

    – Jim

  • Douglas Messier

    Established practice says not to store flammable materials next to nitrous tanks. TSC did it anyway. They had a fire last year that threatened to blow the tanks and take out a densely packed section of the airport. No mandatory requirements, no enforcement and no adult supervision. There’s an incentive to operate safely, but left to their own devices ability can come up short.

  • Visitor

    I took the time to listen to that broadcast. Mr. Witt’s position is well known and consistent. I was surprised to hear an experienced space journalist say that Alsbury accidentally deployed the feather. I thought the NTSB had said he appeared to unlock it early and there was an ‘un-commanded deployment’. Is there new information? Is this just a bit of sloppy journalism?

  • ThomasLMatula

    What made Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley was the ability to successfully move beyond just producing hardware to developing software, applications and online businesses that generated huge demand for more advances in hardware. If Silicon Valley hadn’t they would have been like Detroit, a one trick pony, and have suffered the same fate when the hardware industry moved offshore.

    For Mojave to become the Silicon Valley of space they need to have the same flexibility and move beyond simple hardware development to generating revenue for the vehicles they are producing. Its important to remember that spaceports are not airports or seaports, and require the development of their own unique business model. Mojave could be the leader in developing such a model if they start to look beyond rockets and test flights. Interestingly this would also enable them to insulate themselves beyond the industry regulation they fear.

    Ten years ago I tried to explain this to the folks at Spaceport American, but they had bought into the myth of the Ansari X-Prize and the hype of VG they just ignored it leaving them where they are today, high and dry.