Character, Candor & Competence: Lessons From the SpaceShipTwo Crash

SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)
SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One of the most interesting aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash was how it pulled back the curtain on what was actually going on in the program being undertaken in Mojave. Over the years, the rhetoric has been frequently at odds with reality.

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SpaceShipTwo Pilots Faced Extremely High Work Loads

Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport before powered flight 3. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 2 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Mojave Air and Spaceport sits on 3,300 acres of California’s High Desert about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Since it opened in 1935, the facility had seen multiple uses – rural airfield for the mining industry, World War II Marines Corps training base, U.S. Navy air station and general aviation airport.

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Kevin Mickey Leaves Scaled Composites for Position at Northrop Grumman

Kevin Mickey
Kevin Mickey

MOJAVE, Calif. — Scaled Composites announced big changes in its management today. Ben Diachun will replace Kevin Mickey as president, with Cory Bird being promoted to executive vice president and chief technology officer (CTO).

Scaled’s parent company, Northrop Grumman, has promoted Mickey to the position of vice president of advanced design effective on Nov. 2.

“Ben and Cory have been at the heart of Scaled for years, and I know the company is in great hands,” Mickey said in a press release. “This is a very exciting time for aerospace, and Ben and Cory are just the team to keep Scaled at the forefront of innovation.”

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“Minor Nuance” in SpaceShipTwo’s Propulsion System Was Neither

SpaceShipTwo's propulsion system using the nylon engine. (Credit: Scaled Composites)
SpaceShipTwo’s propulsion system using the nylon engine. (Credit: Scaled Composites/NTSB)

After SpaceShipTwo crashed last year, Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey was asked at a press conference whether the vehicle’s new hybrid engine had failed, causing an explosion. Mickey correctly said that it had not; he and others knew it was pilot error. When pressed for details about the engine change, he claimed that the change in hybrid motors from three previous flights was a “minor nuance.”

Ahh…no. This was not accurate. Sitting in the audience that afternoon listening to him, I knew it wasn’t. I really wanted to ask him about it. But, Mojave CEO Stu Witt ended the press conference not too long afterward.  Mickey literally ran out of the Stuart O. Witt Event Center at the Mojave Air and Space Port before I or anyone else could ask him anything further. Did he have a good reason to rush off like that? Maybe. I don’t know.  I never got a chance to ask.

And, in the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t that important. The graphic above, taken from the NTSB’s final accident report, shows why “minor” and “nuance” should not have been used to describe the changes.

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Virgin Galactic to Announce 700th Customer & Scaled Composites is Hiring

mojave_tower_sunset_smThe annual Antelope Valley Board of Trade’s Business Outlook Conference — held on Friday at the Mojave Air and Space Port — featured addresses by Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, and spaceport CEO/General Manager Stu Witt.

Here are the highlights:

  • Whitesides promised a “fun announcement” next week of Virgin Galactic’s 700th and 701st customers. (fAny speculation out there among Parabolic Arc readers as to who they might be?)
  • Scaled Composites is now up to 540 employees in Mojave and is looking to hire an additional 70 workers this year
  • Whitesides said Scaled Composites recently transferred operational control of WhiteKnightTwo over to Virgin Galactic
  • A similar transfer of SpaceShipTwo will occur later this year after Scaled Composites completes the flight test program on it
  • Virgin Galactic is working hard to get its founder, Richard Branson, and his children to fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo later this year
  • Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company are now up to about 300 employees
  • Witt debuted a new promotional video for the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Video: Mojave Air & Space Port – The Modern Day Kitty Hawk

Video Caption: The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Mojave Air & Space Port CEO Stuart Witt highlights three visionary leaders – Jeff Greason, George Whitesides and Kevin Mickey – who are leading the private space revolution. Much like Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was the birthplace of the modern aviation movement, now Mojave, California has become the hot spot for emerging aviation and aerospace companies.

Whitesides, Mickey to Appear at Business Outlook Conference in Mojave

AV_BOT_2014_Conference_Poster
MOJAVE, Calif. (AVBOT PR) – Senior executives of two companies partnered in pioneering civilian space travel and new commercial space business will be among the speakers for the Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 Antelope Valley Business Outlook Conference at Southern California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.

The Antelope Valley Board of Trade, organizer of the annual day-long event, announced that George T. Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Sir Richard Branson, and Kevin Mickey, President of Scaled Composites, which won the X-Prize by being the first private company to carry passengers to space and back, have accepted invitations to appear on the program.

The two private sector aerospace leaders will address an audience of up to 800 at the conference, which also includes Astronaut Mark Kelly. Email vicki@avbot.org for ticket reservations.

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Kelly, Whitesides to Headline Business Conference at Mojave Spaceport

AV_BOT_2014_Conference_Poster
MOJAVE, Calif. (AVBOT PR)  – Senior executives of two companies partnered in pioneering civilian space travel and new commercial space business will be among the speakers for the Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 Antelope Valley Business Outlook Conference at Southern California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.

The Antelope Valley Board of Trade, organizer of the annual day-long event, announced that George T. Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Sir Richard Branson, and  Kevin Mickey, President of  Scaled Composites, which won the X-Prize by being the first private company to carry passengers to space and back, have accepted invitations to appear on the program.

The two private sector aerospace leaders will address an audience of up to 800 at the conference, which also includes Astronaut Mark Kelly.  Email vicki@avbot.org for ticket reservations.

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Ex-Scaled Composites Boss Doug Shane Moves Over to The Spaceship Company

Doug_Shane
Doug Shane

MOJAVE, Calif. (VG PR) — Virgin Galactic today announced the appointment of Doug Shane as Executive Vice President and General Manager of The Spaceship Company (TSC). Shane joins the company after a 31 year career at Scaled Composites LLC (Scaled), where he served as that company’s President for five years. He will report directly to George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and TSC.

As the company progresses through its successful test flight program and approaches the start of commercial service with SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic has tapped Shane to oversee its manufacturing company, TSC, which has already begun the construction of the second set of SpaceShipTwo spaceships and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. TSC began as a joint venture between Virgin and Scaled, until 2012, when Virgin Galactic acquired full ownership of the venture.

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Scaled Composites Names Kevin Mickey President, Cory Bird Vice President

Kevin Mickey
Kevin Mickey

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Jan. 31, 2013 (Scaled Composites PR) — Scaled Composites, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation, announced today that it has named Kevin Mickey president and Cory Bird vice president, effective immediately.

“Kevin and Cory have been instrumental in keeping the trains of innovation moving for over 20 years,” said Paul Meyer, vice president and general manager of Advanced Programs Development at Northrop Grumman. “I am confident in their ability to continue the great work that started it all, bringing ingenuity and perseverance to realize concepts never before thought possible.”

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