It shouldn’t be surprising that an event like last week’s explosion in Mojave has resulted in its share of both good and bad reporting. However, an article in ArabianBusiness.com is a particularly egregious example of poor reporting on this topic. The article argues that Richard Branson’s “entire commercial space tourism dream is in tatters” because of the explosion, “and nobody can guarantee whether Virgin Galactic will ever make it into space.” True, but few things in life, as the saying goes, are guaranteed.
So lets look at some of the facts and statements in the article. An example: “Branson has invested US$600m into the venture and taken a staggering US$200m in advance ticket sales.” Both are, by any estimate, wild exaggerations. Virgin officials have previously stated that it will spend $225-250 million by the time it begins commercial operations. As recently as last month, at the NewSpace 2007 conference, Virgin’s Alex Tai said that the company has taken in about $25 million in deposits.
Another howler: “The company’s investigation into the incident could take nearly two months, but before then, a separate inquiry by NASA may decide to revoke Virgin Galactic’s licence to develop rockets at the base.” Where to begin? First of all, NASA isn’t involved in this process at all, in granting licenses or otherwise. It’s also unclear what sort of license you would need “to develop rockets at the base”, short of, perhaps, some sort of permits regarding the use or storage of particular chemicals and the like.
And another, right after the previous: “Given the growing speculation that some parts of SpaceShipTwo were based on the same design as the doomed Challenger Space Shuttle, that remains a strong possibility.” All you can say to that is, huh?
Part of the article is based on comments made by an unnamed “senior Virgin Galactic executive”, including this quote: “if NASA steps in then obviously that kind of decision is out of our hands.” This ignorance about NASA’s (non-)role in regulating the industry suggests that this person is not a senior exec with the company, or even affiliated with the company at all.
There’s more, but at this point it would be piling on. (Although perhaps George French of Rocketplane Inc. will appreciate the promotion to “billionaire”, not to mention Geoff Sheerin to “tycoon”.) The main question is: do we ascribe this article to ignorance or malice?