Rutan on Mojave vs. New Mexico

Michael Belfiore reports on his blog on a speech given by Burt Rutan before high school students in Mojave. Rutan said that the town hasn’t changed much since he moved there in 1974, but that over the next four to five years “Mojave’s going to look a whole lot different.” With what he claims to be ” $1 billion in private money committed to the blossoming commercial spaceflight industry around the world”, according to Belfiore, there’s “a reasonable chance that Mojave will be for space flying what Silicon Valley is for the big industries of the last two decades.”

Rutan continues to maintain a low profile regarding SpaceShipTwo: “We feel it’s best to let our competition think that we’ve quit. You just get a lot more fun showing somebody stuff that they don’t expect.” He did reveal, though, that SS2 will have a much greater downrange capability than SS1, being able to fly over 300 kilometers from boost to landing, giving passengers a varying perspective of oceans, mountains, and desert.

Rutan also fired a broadside in the direction of New Mexico and its spaceport plans:

Some people have read the papers and think we’re all moving from Mojave to New Mexico. That’s not true at all. I have no intention of going to New Mexico; I don’t think it’d be a very good place to do a spaceflight. I believe when I get out of the atmosphere I want to see the oceans and the mountains, not just the kind of crap you can see from New Mexico.

True, you can see a somewhat more varied landscape above Mojave than you can above southern New Mexico. Clark Lindsey used Google Earth recently to simulate the view of a suborbital passenger from several locations, including Mojave. The big difference between Mojave and New Mexico is the ocean: I played around with Google Earth a bit this weekend simulating the view from the Southwest Regional Spaceport and found that, at best, you might see a sliver of the Gulf of California.

However, one thing that Google Earth does not take into account is cloud cover. Anyone who lives or has spent some time in southern California knows that a thick marine layer develops over the ocean many nights and moves inland, persisting well into the morning; this would obscure much of the view of the ocean and coastline. (Then there are those pesky winter storms.) If “the view is the thing”, as some have claimed, will space tourism operators—in Mojave or elsewhere—be forced to wait for clear skies not just at their spaceport but in areas of viewing interest hundreds of kilometers away?

1 comment to Rutan on Mojave vs. New Mexico

  • Burt is a great man. The remarks about New Mexico were ummm … unfortunate. We need not be dividing the suborbital spaceport business just yet. We are all in this togther. Personally, this Virginian views New Mexico quite favorably. A lot of people are trying hard in New Mexico to make the Southwest Regional Spaceport work. So, perhaps Mr. Rutan should consider donating a mock-up of SpaceShipOne or even SpaceshipTwo to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. It would be the correct response now.

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