Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Clipped Space Wings

2015 has seen some sad developments in new space companies that tout systems with wings. Virgin Galactic, Stratolaunch, and XCOR have all seen changes in their programs with not much progress.It seems to me that this is the year that space wings have been clipped.

Virgin Galactic was the venerated company that inherited the technology from Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X-Prize. Yet, its SpaceShipTwo suffered a disaster that killed a crew member, injured another, and destroyed the ship. It never made it to space. Due to constant changes to engines and other design features, it probably never will. I realized that this program was in real trouble when I read the article Virging Glactic gets a 747 jet to serve as a flying launch pad for its LauncherOne rocket . It said that VG had changed the mother craft for LauncherOne to launch from from the WhiteKnightTwo to a Boeing 747. That tells me the company sees no end to SpaceShipTwo’s problems. Perhaps we should also see no end either.

Stratolaunch was touted as the largest plane in the world. Then I read the article Stratolaunch Without Final Conception which said that not only has its company changed the rocket it would launch twice, but now the plane itself was in jeopardy. Someone seems to have bitten off more than they can chew; I think.

Then there is XCOR. They were to be a competitor to VG with their space-plane Lynx. Now the main guy Jeff Greason has left his position to a board position according to their news post. They also have not made much progress. What is taking so long? I fear the worse: lack of customers and cash.

All of this comes in a year when two new space rocket companies have made fantastic progress in doing the impossible: landing rockets. I'm talking about, of course, Blue Origin and SpaceX. Both companies have money backing them, one way or another, a strong handle on development, and strong top people to see the projects through. I think, in the end, that makes all the difference.

Shall we say farewell to the dream of space-wings? Perhaps, it’s farewell for now.