The Federation Names Stern Chairman, Expands Membership

CSF_logo2WASHINGTON, D.C. (CSF PR) – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) elected new officers and approved several new member companies at its bi-annual Executive Board of Directors meeting last week in Seattle, expanding its membership to 74 organizations.

Dr. Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute was elected as the new Chairman of the CSF Board of Directors. Dr. Stern, who has been on the CSF board for 7 years and has played many roles in the commercial spaceflight industry, was recently named for the second time to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the World. In the past, Dr. Stern served as NASA’s Associate Administrator for science and participated as a Principal Investigator on 9 NASA missions, including the historic New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Dr. Stern replaces outgoing chairman, Frank Dibello of Space Florida, who served two years as chairman. Read more of Dr. Stern’s bio here. 

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Stu Witt Has Not Joined XCOR’s Advisory Board

Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)

Midland TX, April 4, 2016 – An error has occurred in the previous press release. In contrary to that statement Stu Witt has not joined XCOR’s Advisory Board.

John H. (Jay) Gibson II, CEO of XCOR Aerospace: “Stu Witt has been a good friend to the space industry and XCOR for many years via his leadership role at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. As Stu has transitioned into his next career, we have remained in touch, however, at no point have we gone any further to include Stu taking on an official position within our Advisory Board as announced, and we regret our previous press release wrongfully stated otherwise.”

XCOR Announces New Board Members and Advisors

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason
Jeff Greason

MIDLAND, Texas, March 30, 2016 (XCOR PR) – The board of directors at XCOR Aerospace is seeing new additions, and with immediate effect the board welcomes 3 new members: Charles Thomas (Tom) Burbage, Michael Gass and Arthur Bozlee.

Former board members Jeff Greason, Stephen Flemming and Michiel Mol gave up their board seats to allow for these new members. Michiel Mol, XCOR’s biggest shareholder, will remain actively involved in the company’s daily operations.

All new members have prominent previous experience in the air and space industry.

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Early Aviation & the Safety of Space Tourism

Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.
Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.

Part 2 of 6

“I question whether our insatiable appetite for total safety is serving the needs of the exploring human inside us.”

– Stu Witt, former CEO & General Manager, Mojave Air & Space Port

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After he won the $10 million Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne in October 2004, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan had two goals for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle he was building for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

He vowed the vehicle would be at least 100 times safer than any human spacecraft that had ever flow. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would certify the spaceship in a manner similar to way the agency certifies aircraft.

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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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Stu Witt Retires From Mojave Spaceport in Style

Stu Witt (center) stands with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and others in front of a replica of SpaceShipOne. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Stu Witt (center) stands with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and others in front of a replica of SpaceShipOne. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

They came to Mojave from near and far — from the dusty desert communities of Lancaster, Boron and Ridgecrest to the snow swept tundra of Sweden — to send Stu Witt off in style. One of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C. played hooky from Congress to wish his friend a happy retirement.

Hundreds of people gathered on Jan. 8 to mark the end of Witt’s nearly 14-year term as CEO and general manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port. The event featured a reception and a long parade of friends and colleagues singing his praises.

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Pete Siebold’s Harrowing Descent

SpaceShipTwo breaks up in flight. (Credit: Brandon Wood/NTSB)
SpaceShipTwo breaks up in flight. At the upper left, the main fuselage without its tail booms continues to vent nitrous oxide while in an inverted flat spin. The crew cabin is tumbling in the lower right of the photo. (Credit: Brandon Wood/NTSB)

Part 4 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As far as C.J. Sturckow could tell, everything was going perfectly. Flying an Extra plane at 14,000 feet above Koehn Lake, he and photographer Mark Greenberg watched SpaceShipTwo drop cleanly from WhiteKnightTwo and light its engine. The rocket ignition was “beautiful,” the plume color looked fine, the ship’s trajectory appeared to be right on the mark. And then–

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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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Memorial Plaque Unveiled for Mike Alsbury in Legacy Park

Alsbury_Plaque
Scaled Composites unveiled a memorial plaque to test pilot Mike Alsbury on Friday afternoon in Legacy Park at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Alsbury was killed in the crash of SpaceShipTwo one year ago.

“Ad Astra per aspera” is Latin for “Through hardships to the stars”.

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Popular Science Pays a Visit to Mojave

Sunset from the Mojave Air and Space Port, Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Sunset from the Mojave Air and Space Port, Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Popular Science sent Sarah Scoles to Mojave to check out the place. It’s always hard to parachute into a town and completely understand what it’s about, but she does good job of capturing how the sky high ambitions of the spaceport and its billionaire backers contrast with the dilapidated and sometimes desperate state of the town that adjoins it.

Science Takes Off: What Happens When The Space Industry Collides With A Tiny Town?

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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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Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

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Karina Drees Named New CEO of Mojave Spaceport

Katrina Drees
Katrina Drees

MOJAVE, Calif. — Mojave Air and Space Port Deputy General Manager Karina Drees has been named to replace outgoing General Manager/CEO Stu Witt, who is retiring on Jan 15.

The spaceport’s Board of Directors approved the appointment of Drees in a closed session meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Drees, 39, joined the spaceport as director of business development on July 1, 20o12. She was appointed deputy general manager in August 2013.

Director Allen Peterson said the board concluded Drees was the best candidate to take over the spaceport and civilian flight test center in California’s High Desert after a very systematic search process.

Prior to coming to Mojave, Drees had worked for more than 12 years in strategy and business development in growing technology companies rranging from startups to large public corporations. Her most recent position had been as a member of the strategy and positioning team for SRA International, a large defense contractor in Fairfax, Virg.

Drees lives in Mojave with her husband Todd and their one-year old son, Max.
Witt will be ending a nearly 14 year stint as head of the airport. He is widely viewed as having been a strong leader who built the former Marine Corps base into one of the world’s leading civilian test centers. In addition to the National Test Pilot School, Mojave boast leading edge space companies, including Virgin Galactic, Stratolaunch, Masten Space Systems and XCOR Aerospace.

Dodging Disaster: A Fire, the North Star and the Mojave Code

Fire at a Spaceship Company hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Fire outside of The Spaceship Company hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port on June 5, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. – Luke Colby was horrified.

A fire had erupted outside the old Derringer hangar. Pallets of rubber fuel grain were burning, sending a thick cloud of black smoke into the blue sky over the Mojave Air and Space Port. Firefighters from Kern County Fire Station 14 were doing their best to put out the fire by spraying it down with water.

It seemed like the logical thing to do. And it would have been, if the fire had been located almost anywhere else.

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