Sunday, May 13, 2007

UP payload found, but inaccessible

A reader sent me this note:
They've located the payload on the WSMR side of the San Andreas mountains. The radio beacon is still working, and they can get within 1300 ft of it. The latest is they'll head back on Wednesday with appropriate gear.
I wonder what the blog buzz will be once Scotty is recovered?

Updates based on responses to this post:

#1: One would have thought that thinks like launch angles would have been thought through before you establish your spaceport. Hopefully this is worked out so future recoveries are simpler. (edited May 17th)

#2: Another reader provides a reasonable explanation for the change in launch angle and points out that RLVs may have different launch criteria.

#3: But it looks like WSMR didn't direct the change in launch angle. Still might have been warranted assuming abnormal winds combined with a strong desire to launch on schedule. Hopefully, the spaceport has technical advisors.


  1. Interesting follow up on UP Aerospace's launch from Spaceport America on April 28: Seems that at the last minute, the new Spaceport Director, Rick Homans (formally the NM Secretary of Economic Development)got a little nervous about the launch and decided to move the aim point 5 miles to the west (because safety is number one – the last refuge of the timid!). Jerry Larson, President of UP Aerospace, was against the move but was told to either move it or don't launch. As a result, the payload is now in the mountains west of the range and has yet to be recovered (almost two weeks later). The place where they think it came down is less than two miles from flat open land - Thanks a lot Rick. Next time just shut up and color and let technical people make the technical decisions, you moron! Yet another reason why we have to get spaceflight out of the hands of bureaucrats.

  2. I hadn't heard about this last-minute el/az change. If true, one reason might have been the stronger NW component to the wind that morning.

    Rick is not a technical person and would not have come up with this himself, in my opinion. It would be the WSMR guys dictating such things. He's also the "interim" spaceport director while they search for a qualified person with approprate background.

    When/if Virgin Galactic flies there, rules will be different for guided craft. Not better, just different. :)

  3. Actually you are right - Rick isn't a technical person but he is political. His sole purpose for being the interim director (at $135K/yr) is to ensure that nothing gets in the way of Virgin Galactic setting up operations there. That means delay - UP was technically ready to fly in Jan but they weren't allowed to for "technical reasons." Probably just a coincidence that the NM State legislature was in session mid Jan thru mid March and funds for the spaceport were #1 on the agenda. No flights means a safe spaceport.
    By the way, WSMR did not ask for the change - they were very comfortable with the 3 sigma safety zones that Jerry had built into the launch.
    My concern is that once again you have politics getting in the way of commerce (check Bill Richardson's contributors, Sir Richard and others related - hmmm).
    Bottom line is that this spacport is a good thing for commercial space - let's make sure the dirt bags keep there hands off and lets move on.

  4. It's impossible not to have to deal with politics in a large state-sponsored venture. Even with Elon Musk buying his own land, there is government red-tape and requirements. It's just the way things are in the New Space business. It's at least moving in the direction of well-defined, and more open, regulations.

    I see that you have cut-and-pasted your initial comment to about a dozen blogs. I have no financial stake in the outcome, but I think we all need to give this venture the benefit of the doubt and some breathing room.

  5. John, I agree that politics is inevitable when dealing with the government :) As I last mentioned, it's also completely likely that there were valid reasons for the change (if there was one - has UP or Homans even confirmed this?). I just hope for UPs sake that this is worked out so their future payloads are easier to recover.

    I most certainly want the Spaceport to be successful and I am sorry that I was so quick to assume there was ineptness by either party.

    And I'm still jealous that you got to see the launch!