A Note to Readers….

mojave_tower_sunset_smHi everybody.

As I had previously disclosed, I was working on a book project about XCOR Aerospace. That is no longer the case. I have therefore taken the disclosure statement down from the website.

The end of the book project had several causes. One is that progress on the Lynx at XCOR was extraordinarily slow over the years I’ve been here in Mojave. It was hard coming up with a narrative given the way things were going. Ever watched a desert tortoise move? It was a lot like that. If you haven’t, trust me. They’re very s-l-o-o-w-w.

Now that they’ve shelved the program for the time being due to financial constraints and laid off most of the staff working on it, there’s not all that much to really write about.

However, the problem goes back further than that. And I would be remiss — and open myself up to a lot of criticism — if I did not tell you the rest of the story. So, here it is.

The truth is, relations between XCOR and myself deteriorated about two years ago. That happened after the the SpaceShipTwo accident on Oct. 31, 2014. It has been explained to me that “someone at the airport said that you were an XCOR employee and that triggered a ‘keep your distance’ response re. the accident.”

Another source said this false claim and recommendations for XCOR to keep its distance had been circulating for quite a while. It was only after Scaled Composites had killed yet another employee (their fourth) in the SpaceShipTwo program that XCOR management decided to largely cut ties.

Despite this, I had held onto the hope for a while — too long, actually — that things would change and I would end up writing a book. But, since the layoffs that seems highly improbable.

Why I was made to suffer after SpaceShipTwo crashed, I could never entirely figure. I know that people didn’t want me here, especially after another fatal accident in this program. So, I get that part of it.

I can see how the optics would look bad for XCOR. And my reporting would make the larger industry look bad. All the same, I had nothing to do with why the ship crashed or why the SpaceShipTwo program was so troubled for so long.

I had been critical of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites over the years, that is true. But, I’ve been mostly right. The NTSB investigation bore out a lot of my reporting.

The SpaceShipTwo program has been a tragedy in many ways. I’m not just talking about the deaths of the four Scaled Composites employees, which were certainly tragic.

The other part of it are the missed opportunities. Despite all the money money spent and the talent hired and the gala roll out events, the program has yet to live up to the potential it had to really open up space was launched 12 years ago.

There is so much disdain for NASA and the U.S. government here in Mojave. But, what does it say when NewSpace’s signature program drags on longer than the entire Apollo moon program without a single spaceflight? How exactly are you guys superior to NASA?

If SpaceShipTwo had succeeded years ago, it would have brought in a rising tide that would have lifted a lot of other boats. Investors would have looked at this success, concluded that suborbital space tourism was a thing, and looked around for other places to invest.

The same thing happened with smart phones after Apple released the iPhone. The market was soon flooded with similar devices for those who couldn’t afford or didn’t want an Apple phone. Something similar would have happened with space tourism, albeit on a much smaller scale.

I believe XCOR would have benefited a great deal from Virgin’s success. I think it could have brought the additional investment and talent the company needed to finish the Lynx and see if could do all those things they hoped it could do.

My reporting on Virgin Galactic was not out of some loyalty to XCOR. It was out of genuine concern about what was going on in the SpaceShipTwo program.

Here’s the other thing that people don’t quite appreciate.

I could have accepted every one of the claims that Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites put out there about SpaceShipTwo and its progress, and when it was going to fly customers, and the safety being the North Star, and flying when it was safe, and not rushing to meet some deadline, and how it was OK to declare the flight test program complete after a low number of powered flights using a brand new engine, and saying it was then perfectly safe to put Richard Branson and his son on board for the first commercial flight.

In other words, I could have ignored everything I was hearing, and simply become every bit the cheerleader that many others in the media have been over the years. That would have been an easy and safe course. But, how would that have served my readers?

And, you know what? It wouldn’t have mattered. Virgin Galactic would still have ended up exactly where they are today. The problems, accidents and delays have not been due to my reporting on them.

Virgin Galactic has started flying again. I wish them luck. Space is tough. I hope they are tougher. I pray they are truly committed to a thorough and lengthy flight test program.

XCOR is in survival mode. Despite everything that’s happened, I hope they can pull out of it. I wish them luck.

Save

Save

Save

  • ThomasLMatula

    Doug, It is sad how folks need to justify themselves when they are simply being good journalists. And that is what your reporting is, good journalism.

    I have been following, and involved in New Space since it was Alt.Space in the 1990’s and the groups do prefer to see things with rose-colored glasses, glasses that blind them to realities that undermine their efforts ultimately. New Space or whatever they want to call it today, needs the type of honest reporting you do if its to reach its potential, but sadly they often prefer fantasy to reality.

  • savuporo

    Seconded, Doug your site is one of the very very few places with any sort of good critical journalism going on in space reporting. Critical without turning cynical. Keep walking that line.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Corporations can be more Soviet than the Soviet Union ever was. Your problem with them was simple and you knew what it was. You told the truth, and provided a counterpoint to their world view that, in their eyes, endangered future investors, and current ticket and share holders. Who knows maybe you even poked a hole or two in the corporate boards’ own self esteem. However your main sin, and it’s likely you’ll be blackballed by the whole industry, is stepping outside the faith and writing it like you see it. For that you probably won’t be forgiven. You do have a book in the making, a more technical, and better balanced version of “They Laughed At Christopher Columbus” by E Weil.

  • Phil

    Thanks for the honesty and keep up up the good work!

  • Pete Zaitcev

    There has to be a way to deliver hard-hitting journalism, yet not give out an impression of a crazy, obsessed hater. Hitting that kind of tone would be most excellent. I must make it clear immediately that I have no idea how to accomplish that. Jack Baruth is the only person I know who’s capable of doing it, even when writing about VW and Porsche.

  • Geo Dav

    I feel with you Doug, myself after years of good understanding with “Epic Games”
    (Unreal Engine) i made a few public post about blatent faults and advise users to look else where, 18 months later no change and while i’m not publicly “BB’d” i feel it in comments.
    Please for all your veiwers keep at it and tell the truth no matter which Company it is.
    Humans learn from pain and if the truth hurts now it might save others later.
    Thanks.

  • P.K. Sink

    Doug…it’s because you ARE so good at what you do that these companies fear you. Take some consolation in that. Greater access requires less criticism. I don’t think that you’ll be able to get around that little sticking point. Good luck, and keep on keeping on.

  • Paul_Scutts

    It’s called “shoot the messenger”, Doug and they never learn (Nixon had that habit and look how well it turned out for him re Watergate). All the best, Paul.

  • Emmet Ford

    I’m sure you have a good book in you, Doug, waiting to come out.

  • mlc449

    There is so much disdain for NASA and the U.S. government here in Mojave. But, what does it say when NewSpace’s signature program drags on longer than the entire Apollo moon program without a single spaceflight? How exactly are you guys superior to NASA?

    Ridiculous statement. If “NewSpace” had the billions of dollars and massive workforce and resources that the Apollo program had you’d probably see man walking on Mars by now. You’re not comparing like for like there Doug. and I say that as someone very critical of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites.

  • ThomasLMatula

    You should write a book about the New Space culture at Mojave. I expect many folks would buy it. I know I would contribute to make it happen.

  • LA Julian

    Echoing what others say — you need to write the book about the whole dysfunctional culture of denial at Mojave.

    Of course, you’ll never run out of material, so you’ll just have to pick an arbitrary stopping point in time, or 500 pages — whichever comes first!

  • LA Julian

    Corporations can be more Soviet than the Soviet Union ever was.

    Especially when so many of them change their directions at the whims of the “Great Men” running them…seen this in other industries, to massive losses of investment.

  • redneck

    Which creates opportunities for the competition to come in and eat their lunch, unless the competition doesn’t exist due to lack of real market, or regulatory capture.

  • SilveradoCyn

    Doug, Where do I send my deposit for the book that I know you will write about the last decade or so at Mojave? Yes things have moved at a glacial pace, and funds have been burned through, but there are lessons in all of this. And there are a large collection of efforts in the desert that have to thread into a great book!
    When I brought my two sons up to watch the first SpaceShipOne “space flight” we left the house at midnight in OC. I told them we might see something really cool, or we might see nothing as the flight could be scrubbed. I explained that even if we saw a flight it might be a completely new space age, or just an interesting cul de sac in history. The jury is still out, any may be out for a long time. Just look at how long Concorde was flying before it took it’s place as a great achievement that didn’t advance.
    Mojave is still a place where great things are or may be happening.

  • patb2009

  • Titanium Shadow

    I worked at one of the New Space companies in the 2000’s and we had some interactions with Scaled regarding engines and aerodynamics. The thing I remember most was how certain the Scaled Employees were that they were the smartest people in the industry. It was not possible to get them to understand that just scaling up SpaceShipOne was going to allow them to be flying paying passengers two years from the SpaceShipOne flights.

    In their defense, they were riding high from their success from SapceShipOne, but they really needed someone in executive management to take a critical look at where the program was and how they were going to get to where they wanted to go.