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News and Commentary from Stuart O. Witt, CEO and General Manager, Mojave Air & Space Port
2011 was a transformational year here in Mojave. The first privately funded, purpose-built facility to build spaceships was completed in Mojave. That’s a big deal.
Next door the announcement that Paul G. Allen and Stratolaunch will now be constructing two facilities to construct a carrier aircraft, as a critical component of a new space system, will also be built in 2012. So our Taxiway B project, which was designed 11 years ago and constructed seven years ago, now has two showcase tenants. We’re very pleased to have them in Mojave and appreciate their business.
In 2011 we also constructed a photovoltaic tracking system, using concentrated Fresnel lenses to concentrate the Sun’s energy on very small chips, powering the Administration building and others at the airport. We chose a forward leaning concentrated PV system to capture the enormous amount of solar energy falling on Mojave, and put it to our long-term use. It sends a powerful message to our new tenants, and the rest of the world, that we are a totally innovative organization looking at any way to improve efficiencies and capitalize on technology.
We also improved our primary runway. This primary runway can now handle the largest aircraft flying in the world, and that’s significant for a General Aviation airport. It’s also significant that that same runway can hold an aircraft the size of what Mr. Allen plans to produce under Stratolaunch.
For the last few years in the development of our rail yard, which we’ve used to support the wind industry and other specialty freight hauling needs, we’ve realized a considerable amount of un-budgeted revenue. That revenue has been used to enhance our entire facility, the refurbishment of many old World War II facilities that now have a new life. All of those facilities are filled.
We continue to upgrade older buildings. We will continue that in 2012, hiring local labor from the local work force. The long-term goal is to completely facelift the entire Mojave Air and Space Port to meet the needs of the future.
In 2011 we began the process of designing a new rocket test facility on the east side of the airport that would require the movement of water, power, sewer and natural gas under our primary runway, which in itself will now open thousands of acres for development on the east side.
Many of the space tenants at Mojave – Masten Space Systems, XCOR Aerospace, Firestar, BonNova and others – have been testing rocket motors quietly, if that’s possible.
In an amazing way, when you look at the totality of rocket tests worldwide, more rockets have been tested in Mojave than the rest of the world combined in the last decade. Today nine rocket tests will be conducted at Mojave, by one company, Masten. Nowhere else on Earth is that happening today.
Mojave has had a long term attachment to western Europe. Test pilots from western Europe have come to Mojave for several decades, to train and practice their skills, bring projects that are European-based over to Mojave where they have a place to test. This last year we took that to a new level. I worked with representatives of a company in the Netherlands known as Space Exedition Curaçao, and joined them in Curaçao to do an assessment of needs and assessment of operations on how they could operate suborbital spaceflights from the island of Curaçao.
We also worked with Spaceport Sweden in the Swedish Lapland in a place called Kiruna, which is actually a place very much like Mojave, a northern mining community in a very dry climate that happens to be very cold. It’s very interesting that both locations have been in the aerospace business for over 60 years. Kiruna, Sweden’s focus has been in space where Mojave’s has been in the aero. And now Mojave is getting into the space and Kiruna is branching out into the aero, for flights through the Northern Lights, and now they want to do suborbital spaceflights in Kiruna. So we signed a historic agreement to partner on projects.
Furthermore we’re looking at similar agreements with organizations from Spain and Belgium in 2012.
Through these trips and through these agreements we meet a whole new host of people around the world, and we all share common desires, and that is to actually exponentially expand human spaceflight. And we need to do that across borders. We need to do that by collaboration. This is an exciting time and we are very thankful to be at the center of it here in Mojave.
At a very local level, one thing that several of our tenants have identified as a critical need in Mojave is revitalization of the town of Mojave. So we have partnered now on starting an initiative with the Chamber of Commerce to begin a revitalization plan, no different than what the community did in Tehachapi and just made a remarkable difference in the lifestyle in Tehachapi. It helps so many ways. It helps with recruitment of the talent and workforce required to carry out your mission. It helps with retaining those people by providing a livable lifestyle in their own community.
People like and want to work green. Not everybody wants to drive a car to work. Many would like to ride a bicycle. That lifestyle is what the younger work force demands, and that’s what we intend to deliver.
As we look to the past and then reflect on what’s possible in the future, we can’t ignore the accomplishments of the designer Burt Rutan and his brother Dick the pilot, who designed Voyager. That was a remarkable accomplishment and the record stands today as the first un-refueled nonstop flight to circumnavigate the globe 25 years ago today. Fascinating accomplishment, and the legacy of that accomplishment is alive and well in Mojave today.
Looking forward to 2012, people want to know my view of what the future holds, and what’s possible. Since 2004, the last suborbital flights that carried humans and were conducted from Mojave, I’ve predicted that 2012 would be the next year. I still think 2012 will be the next exciting round of manned suborbital development flights from Mojave.
If we are successful, several companies developing these systems will then offer these systems to extend around the United States and hopefully around the world. If our government can find relief on ITAR, which is currently holding back an entire industry from a market that’s out there in the world that wants access to our minds, services and capabilities. Read that as Products. Humans made this rule. Humans can undo this rule and open an entire world market to the products coming out of Mojave and other places around the United States.
When I traveled around the world this year and met with people from Europe, long-standing customers with Mojave and developing new European customers with Mojave, people all say the same thing: What we offer here is actually quite simple, and they say, “So American.” But frankly it’s been lost on many Americans. What we offer is permission. We give people permission to dream, to develop and to test and hopefully find breakthroughs. We will not lose the focus on our primary core mission of giving people permission.
Stuart O. Witt