The company you keep will define the opportunities you meet.
Years ago, it seems a lifetime ago, I had a meeting with the Director of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS), Dr. Peter Wegner. Dr. Wegner had recently arrived at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque to set up Chile Works, a Skunk Works type of organization for small responsive satellite development. The ORS office, funded under the Air Force Research Laboratory, was set up at Kirtland Air Force base.
Colonel (Doc) Aguilar is a rocket man who works at Kirtland. He and I worked together for years on the Student Launch program. He did rocketry outreach in Albuquerque and even built his own V2 rocket. He used to drive around Albuquerque with the rocket in the bed of his truck. When I called Doc and asked him to help facilitate the meeting with Dr. Wegner he agreed. I also wanted to bring the Spaceport America director, Steve Landeene, with me. Steve came from the business sector, had worked for Honeywell Corporation. He had not worked in the launch industry, so I figured getting him introduced into the launch business with the satellite developers would be good if we could get it done. At the time we were looking to increase the customer base for the one rocket operator we had, UP Aerospace.
I do not consider having meetings productive unless there is an agenda, and expected outcomes from the meeting are achievable. In other words, if the person I am meeting is not a decision maker, I cannot expect much from the meeting. Therefore, I wanted the meeting with the Director of ORS, Dr. Peter Wegner. We were there to invite the Office of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) to use Spaceport America as a test site for their satellite development work. In 2009, the Department of Defense was not interested in commercial space or in using their facilities. I had been researching ORS for my Space Grant work and knew they flew their technologies on rockets out in Kwajalein Island, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. Spaceport America is an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque. Satellite technologies can benefit from testing on sounding rockets, it is done all the time at DOD ranges. Why not at the spaceport? Where there is a will there is a way, that’s what my parents told me.
The Air Force is a mission driven organization responsible for our national defense. Goofing around with a commercial launch site was not on their radar in 2009. Jumping across this great divide was not for the faint of heart, nor the unprepared. By the time we approached the ORS office, they had heard about UP Aerospace and the capability of their sounding rocket. That was the good news. So after month of trying we finally got an appointment. It was the first time I had traveled with Steve Landeene. Trips like this start early and we’d scheduled another meeting with a satellite phone dealer I know after the ORS meeting. Mr. Landeene and I arrived at the Kirtland gate and were escorted into the office of Doc’s boss where Dr. Wegner was scheduled to meet with us. After a half hour wait, Dr. Wegner arrived. By then I was a little anxious as we only had an hour appointment.
Doc made the introductions and very quickly we explained the reason for our visit. Dr. Wegner asked if the rocket was an orbital vehicle, it is not. He got up from the table and said, forget it we can’t use it. Without even batting an eye I said, well, you may want to think that over. You are in the State of New Mexico with two launch facilities less than 2 hours away. Kwajalein is overkill for small satellite technologies. Let’s start over. Hi, my name is Pat Hynes.
That is when Pete Wegner and I became friends. He started laughing and agreed. ORS used the spaceport a number of times. They became great supporters of our work. It just goes to show, when you are working with reasonable people who understand saving money for the taxpayer is a priority, as it was for a small start-up organization like Chile Works, finding a way to work together was easy. Spaceport America was designed as a commercial launch and recovery site whose capabilities include easy access to space for commercial and government customers. And yes, that includes Virgin Galactic, and it now includes NASA as well as other customers.
Dr. Wegner spoke at ISPCS in 2011 about Chile Works and its successes enabled by the spaceport. He has recently become an entrepreneur. He is the Chief Technology Officer for a satellite company called BlackSky Global. The commercial satellite development company has received financial backing from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital company. Their first satellite launch will be aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. Vulcan Capital is the same company building the Stratolauncher at Mojave Air and Space Port. Paul Allen is also the man who bankrolled the development of SpaceShipOne, and is co-founder of Microsoft. SpaceX is building a test site at our spaceport. Great company we keep from time to time here in New Mexico.