They're Standing In The Way Of Branson's Virgin Galactic
Burt Rutan is a little peeved these days, put off by rules that
govern the export of technology from the United States. Those rules
could very well delay the launch of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin
Galactic, an enterprise aimed at putting big money passengers into
BBC Correspondent Irene Mona Klotz reports from Cape Canaveral
that Scaled Composites' deal to sell Virgin Atlantic space-going
tourist vehicles built on the technology that won the X-Prize last
year is now in jeopardy because of tight US controls on technology
Rutan is fuming.
"I thought Britain was a relatively friendly nation," Rutan told
a recent Congressional committee hearing. He was quoted by the BBC.
"We have wrestled with this problem in terms of technology transfer
to Virgin Atlantic for about five months now, and it has been
Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, was also on
Capitol Hill for the recent hearings and seemed equally -- if not
more eloquently -- frustrated.
"At this point we are not able to even view Scaled Composites'
designs for the commercial space vehicle," Whitehorn testified.
"After US government technology-transfer issues are clarified, and
addressed if deemed necessary, we hope to place a firm order for
the spacecraft." He, too, was quoted by the BBC.
But therein lies the rub. Virgin Galactic had hoped to get off
the ground in 2007. Whitehorn now says that won't happen. The first
commercial space tourist flight probably won't take off until 2008
-- or even 2009.
"We have had to move away from the
basic concept of this being a foreign-funded development," Rutan
said. That may be the most elegant solution to the technology
export bottleneck -- Rutan funding his own development. But then
there's the pricetag.
But as Correspondent Klotz reported, Rutan saved his harshest
criticism for the FAA and its regulation of manned commercial
"The process (of obtaining FAA approval for his SpaceShipOne
flights last year) just about ruined my program," he told the BBC.
"It resulted in cost overruns, increased the risk for my test
pilots, did not reduce the risk to the non-involved public,
destroyed our 'always question, never defend' safety policy and
removed our opportunities to seek new innovative safety
At issue, he said, were the very same rules that, at the time,
applied to both unmanned and manned commercial launches. What Rutan
would rather see are rules that more like those applying to
"The regulatory process was grossly misapplied for our research
tests and, worse yet, is likely to be misapplied for the regulation
of the future commercial space liners," he said.