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It’s been an amazing year at Mojave.
Stratolaunch, the Paul G. Allen company that announced they would be breaking ground in Mojave in December of 2011, actually moved into their 88,000 square foot low bay a month ahead of schedule. They plan to complete their high bay, to produce the largest airplane ever built, here in Mojave, and they plan to be in that ahead of schedule in February of 2013. I understand there’s already 80 people working full time in the low bay. That is a new build out on 19 acres in Mojave.
The rocket companies had some amazing accomplishments. Masten Space Systems with Xaero and Xombie conducted a number of tethered flights, untethered free flights. It was just fascinating in the skies to see them demonstrating precision take off, navigation and landing of various family of landers, even in very strong cross winds up to as much as 40 knots.
On the unmanned air systems or optionally piloted aircraft front, this year we had two firsts: Firebird from Northrop Grumman was the second generation from the “Old School” design at Scaled Composites. Northrop flew the second gen of that on its first flight last month, which opened up a whole new family of unmanned air systems under an optionally piloted vehicle certificate of authorization from the FAA. This is a big deal. This just adds to our 60-year history in unmanned air systems in Mojave, with a whole new family, looking well into the future.
On the rocket front, we continue to have numerous tests every day. I mean we’ve had as many as nine this year, nine in one day, rocket tests. A whole host of companies. And now companies are coming from around the states to Mojave, just to test, to piggyback on existing test sites. We had Interorbital, we had Masten Space Systems, we had AMPT from Colorado, Whittinghill Aerospace, Virgin, Scaled.
Add that to the number of glide flights of Virgin Galactic, nearing the powered flight phase of SpaceShipTwo, WhiteKnightTwo. You see the development at XCOR of their new family of suborbital craft. It’s just been a wild ride this year in Mojave on the aviation front.
Firestar Engineering is another remarkable young company that came to Mojave to find a house to develop and test new green rocket motor technologies and components.
This year Incotec celebrated in October their 20th anniversary. The same month they produced their billionth aircraft fastener. That’s remarkable. A small company that came to town as a supplier to an emerging industry is now the leading supplier of fasteners for composite to metal structures in commercial airplanes. It’s a classic outcome of what’s possible when you create an environment for entrepreneurs.
From the airport side, creating this infrastructure where the innovators can find a home to innovate, to test and develop, takes some thought to try to be out in front.
We first have to assess what do our tenants need? Not only what do they need today, but what can we anticipate that they will be needing at the end of the year. And we build to it.
These people expect and demand access to data. Very high speed, high volume data. This year we completed airport-wide fiber installation. We now connected that fiber with One Wilshire in Los Angeles. We have direct access to the largest pipe in the nation for data.
Now that fiber is being extended to the rocket test sites, where these companies can watch testing from anywhere in the world at very high data rates. We believe this is one of the biggest attractants we’ve been able to provide the new tenants in Mojave.
Also, just basic infrastructure, water, power, sewer, improving our runways, taxiways, making building sites available, enhancing our environmental assessments preparing us for our next licensing phase with the FAA. All of these activities were going on concurrently in 2012.
We are completely tearing up and completely rebuilding a brand new runway, called 4-22, as a crosswind runway, extending its length and lighting it. This is a great enhancement to the airport, for both general aviation and potential returning space vehicles.
We are constantly trying to position the airport where the business is going, not where it is today.
Each year we are amazed at the revenue we receive from the rail industry. This last year we actually invested even deeper in our rail yard. It’s amazing now what comes in by rail. I believe in the future, resin will come into this airport in tanker cars and spaceships will go out the other side. I think the production line is starting to show signs that people understand that we have a rail yard. It supports the wind industry currently, the auto industry, specialty freight shipments of all kinds, and I believe shortly it will be supporting the aerospace industry.
On the facilities side, we had a requirement from the tenants a couple of years ago, to build out an event center. There was no place in the Mojave area where the tenants could hold an all-hands meeting. They had grown to the point where they didn’t have their own facilities big enough for everybody to get in one room and have a get-together.
We started working with the community organizers in town concerned with the revitalization of Mojave and determined that this community really does need a community center for events, not just for the airport but for everyone. So my board invested in a joint-use facility, for performing arts, aerospace events, lectures, training, you name it. That is our Building 137. My board allocated $600,000 this year to complete that project. We believe we’re going to have that building ready for its first event in the April time frame of 2013.
Along that line, every third Saturday of every month there’s an event hosted by locals in the community called Plane Crazy. And it’s an opportunity for people who own vintage airplanes to put them on display. So that event has grown, and it’s become a gathering point for aviation enthusiasts, anybody, kids, anybody who wants to come out and see cool airplanes.
One of the most successful Plane Crazy Saturdays this last year was on a day when Scaled Composites held an open house and a job fair. They parked all of their really cool airplanes – specialty flight test and flight research airplanes – on the ramp, and 4,000 people attended. College grads from across the nation piled into cars and drove to Mojave to put their resumés on file with these forward-leaning aerospace firms. It was an amazing day.
Another event we hosted this year was for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation with the FAA on an emergency preparedness workshop for the commercial space industry.
From my perspective we’ve developed a number of lessons learned in Mojave over the last 11 years. We have actually designed and built purpose-built response vehicles for composite aircraft and rocket-powered aircraft. We have a procedure every day looking at all of the events for tomorrow, and ensuring that the various response vehicles are staffed and loaded with the right agents if they’re needed.
So we put on a workshop with best practices and emergency response preparedness on how we handle explosives, how we handle hazardous materials, how we conduct air quality surveys, and how we give people permission to do very risky things. It was very well-received by everyone, the government and the industry.
We added a new staff member this year, which exponentially broadened our reach into industry and academia, through Karina Drees, an MIT Sloan fellow and an aerospace professional, who is making a remarkable difference in our ability to reach out to tomorrow’s work force. We look for very big things in 2013 from Karina.
Another thing we’ve learned at Mojave is that policy matters. Words matter. When policy makers say something, whether it be in Sacramento or other state capitals or at the federal level, people listen. And it has a profound impact on the future. To that end, we sponsored Assembly Bill 2243 carried by now-Senator Steve Knight, which made its way through both the lower and upper house in Sacramento, both judiciary committees without a single No vote. In California, in this economy, about aerospace.
Something rather remarkable happened on September 21st over California. It was a touching moment to see the last flight of Endeavour coming down the runways at Mojave, and to look left and right at literally the thousands of people who drove here to just be a part of it. Millions of people came out of their doors and their offices that day to catch a glimpse of Endeavour, a symbol of American ingenuity.
Something else happened that day. Governor Brown held a small press conference on the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento to announce the signing of Assembly Bill 2243 as Endeavour flew over Sacramento. I applaud the Governor for his signature, and for taking a stand to keep business in California in this emerging new industry.
This next year we intend to seek minor amendments to 2243 which will increase our ability to retain this industry in California, and again be a nationwide leader in shaping policy, which is going to be needed to foster this industry nationwide and be a leader around the world.
We are also looking at policy on revamping law that was signed by President Johnson in 1968, shaping the International Trade in Arms Regulations, which regulates rocketry. We believe the new commercial space industry are not designing weapons but are designing vehicles to haul products and people to space, and they should not be regulated under the arms treaties, but under the Commerce Clause. And so we’re seeking legislation at the federal level this year that will help the entire industry.
A number of years ago a very small group of us got together and founded what was then the Personal Spaceflight Federation. We believed that there would come a time in the very near future when we would need a standards-based organization and a consensus organization that would represent this industry. That industry has now grown. This year you saw SpaceX launch a privately built vehicle, built in Los Angeles, to the International Space Station two times, and take cargo and return cargo back to Earth. That is something very new. That company SpaceX is one of the founding members of the CSF.
This year it was a very high honor of mine to be elected as Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation Board of Directors.
I’m excited by the year 2013. I can see real events happening next year that will capture the imagination of tomorrow’s work force. They will be occurring at a number of sites around the nation, but specifically here at Mojave.
We have three tenants that fully expect to be in powered flight in rocketry. We have two tenants who expect to be in the optionally piloted vehicle arena this next year. Those are big deals.
We have considerable interest from two different companies for new facilities on Taxiway B, and we are in design phase right now for those facilities. I think at this time next year you’ll be excited to hear about the accomplishments on Taxiway B.
The biggest thing that we can focus on from my desk in 2013 is ensuring that we continue to give this industry permission. Permission to develop, to design, to test, to succeed or fail. America and the world desperately needs Mojave.
Stuart O. Witt, CEO
Mojave Air & Space Port