Have you ever been in a group discussion and found the discussion dominated by one person? What goes through your mind? Last week I was in London at the Farnborough International Air Show and present when Richard Branson announced the LauncherOne. Sir Richard said, “I’m immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo. Now, LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies. It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably.”
LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic’s proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of air launch, Virgin Galactic’s customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions.” Branson and other senior executives announced that work has already begun on the vehicle.
It occurred to me humility will help me listen and look for collaborators. Granted I have ideas, one of them is to build by 2014, a Makers Lab for students and faculty. It will be necessary if we are to build experiments and satellites to take advantage of the opportunities we will have with Virgin Galactic’s three vehicles that will be operating at Spaceport America. What have we accomplished? Lots actually. We have launched 68 experiments to space, with 6 more to go in October. We have accomplished the first steps.
I realize the organizational challenges are big. The public school systems, the universities and our State Legislature would have to get informed and then engaged. Space Grant can help so can others. Florida, Texas, Hawaii and Colorado have gotten their legislative bodies positioned to build capability and recruit new commercial space companies to their states, and to start licensing efforts for spaceports. They are chasing us because we have Virgin Galactic. Are they catching up? Yes, definitely. It’s probably easier to hit a target when you have one. New Mexico is a target.
Florida has just announced RocketCrafters will build their research and development facilities in Titusville. Texas has recruited XCOR Aerospace research and development to Midland. Both companies wanted to work in New Mexico. New Mexico does not have the incentive money to bring these companies to our state. Richard Branson has the ability to recruit people to his companies because he is a risk taker. He is also an entrepreneur.
Public private partnerships, like the partnership with Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic, are visionary. During the LauncherOne announcement, Sir Richard introduced the customers, not only of the Virgin Galactic business, but also for the LauncherOne. LauncherOne customers included Skybox Imaging (Skybox) CEO Tom Ingersoll. Skybox is a Silicon Valley-based firm that recently announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging constellation of satellites.
Speaking at the Farnborough event, Tom Ingersoll said, “Skybox’s objective is to provide world-class, affordable access to space imagery and information, and in order to do so, we need world-class, affordable access to space. Virgin Galactic is unique in having the right mix of ingredients to support our vision, as well as that of the growing small satellite community. We plan to make full use of LauncherOne.” Will New Mexico make full use of LauncherOne?
Did you know, we are building small satellites at the universities in New Mexico? New Mexico Space Grant is funding some of these efforts, and now with LauncherOne, we will have access to orbit.
Humility. Physical Sciences Laboratory and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NMSU were capable of working on small satellites, and payloads, however, our capabilities are almost non-existent now. Humility. Patience. They are two sides of the same coin. Opportunity.
Richard Branson said he constantly pushes his staff to come up with new ideas. Listen to them talking about working on the Virgin Galactic project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OOjhWNquhA&feature=youtu.be&hd=1. I realize humility, not frustration will be a motivating force for me. It will help me understand I must listen to those people who dominate a conversation; maybe, just maybe there is a Richard Branson in our midst. There has to be.