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.