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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On the scarcity of one Dale Amon and rumours regarding his whereabouts

Long time readers have no doubt wondered why I have become a scarce commodity on the pages of Samizdata; such readers also are aware of my long term connection with things spatial and free market.

For many years I have made some portion of my mostly meagre living in the Commercial Space arena. Staying in the game has been a costly proposition in terms of what I might have earned by simply forgetting the dream and just going for the gold. Those on the left seem to think that is what Libertarians do; but they are wrong. We are not about maximizing our wealth; we are about maximizing our liberty and doing what we want to do to the extent we can manage with our own resources. In my case, lacking much in the way of resource to begin with, that has meant surviving day to day on whatever short term contracts I could manage while I worked by myself or with others to gain a foothold in the then tiny NewSpace economy. I always thought it would be soon, really soon now… but this world for which I was born for took far longer than I had ever imagined to come to pass.

But it is finally happening and that is why there has been so little heard from me. I am now working under contract for XCOR, a number of whose members are long time Samzidata readers, out at the Mojave Spaceport in California. The future looks very bright for XCOR and many others in this industry. The big milestones are starting to get ticked off. SpaceX has had a stunning launch record and flew its Dragon to-be-manned reusable capsule in ProxOps [Proximity Operations] with the space station; Armadillo will probably bust the Von Karman line this year.

SpaceX is bending metal on the Falcon Heavy which will launch next year and will have the biggest lift capacity in the world. Of all the launchers that ever existed, only the Saturn V moon rocket was bigger. I suspect SpaceX will surpass even that before this decade is out. Bigelow has launch contracts in place and customers for his inflatable habitats that should be up around the mid-decade and will have a significant fraction of the capabilities and volume of the government owned space station. By the end of the decade or earlier in the next he will almost certainly have surpassed them.

By the end of this year or early next year the XCOR Lynx suborbital space plane will see air under its wings. As to when it will see vacuum under its tail, I could not tell you even if I knew for sure. It will happen when it happens and it will not be all that far in the future.

At first blush, Mojave is a speck in a vast desert, an old Western town that grew up into something not far removed from what you saw in old 1950’s SciFi movies. It is so much so I would not be at all surprised to find that the folks from 2 hours drive West in Hollywood did some of those movies here. At night when I drop into the local gas station, there is usually a Sheriff and several troopers hanging out talking with the woman who runs the store: just like it was in those old films.

Mojave main street
No gunfighters, but it looks the part.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The current day town has three main industries. Wind farms and the railyards. If you are a train buff you would love the view from my motel as mile long freights go by just about every hour of the day.

Windmills
The alien hordes, I mean the nuclear mutated porcupine quills, er would you believe windmills… are multiplying faster than Australian bunnies.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
Mojave Trains
If you were ever a model railroader you would love the view.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
More trains
And yes, I once was a model railroader…
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The main attraction is the Spaceport. If you are in Big Aero, this place is probably not your cup of tea. It is filled with people who are more interested in getting off the planet than in maximizing shareholder value or selling a goldplated urinal (experimental) to the Defense Department.

Mojave Spaceport sign
Yep, I am in the right place…
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The place is filled with aviation goodies and it starts right at the ‘gate’, about a half mile or so from the old control tower. Few will recognize it, but this old airliner is an extremely rarebird, possibly one of the few Convair 990A´s that has not been turned into sets of household aluminum measuring cups.

Mojave Convair 990A gate guardian
This pretty ‘little’ thing is from the dawn of commercial jet transport.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

Mojave has had a fairly long association with the F4 Phantom, one of my favorite aircraft. As one flyer I know put it, every one of those funny little bends was put there to solve an aerodynamic problem. This is one of the former target drones of what was once Tracor and is now BAE I believe. It used to sit directly in front of the old tower on the ground side but they moved it way out here sometime in the last decade.

Mojave F4 gate guardian
There are a lot of F4’s around. This is the long time Gate Guardian which could use a bit of love.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
Lancaster F4
This pylon mounted F4 in Lancaster, about 30 miles west, is somewhat better cared for.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The Spaceport is quite large and I will not even attempt to show how large. Mostly it is just lots and lots of hangars and trailers with things going on inside them that I could not tell you about even for the few where I actually know.

Mojave old tower
The old control tower.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

This is where I usually go for lunch. Where else on earth will you find a place where all around you people are talking about their rocketships and engine test firings?

Voyager Restaurant
It is named after the plane used by Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager for their historic non-stop un-refueled around the world flight.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

I might add that Dick Rutan was a Vietnam F-100 fighter pilot and will soon be my CFI as I start taking flying lessons again after a couple of decades hiatus in Ireland.

Aviation and space ships is not everything in life. There is astronomy as well! A bunch of us from XCOR took a work break to watch the Venus transit last month.

Scopes on Venus transit
It was only a tiny black dot on the face of the sun, and when you consider that dot is the size of Earth…
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

Another one of the field’s claims to fame is the boneyard. This is where old airliners go to die.

Mojave Boneyard
This is a tiny portion of the old airliner population, and I do believe those are the bouncing 747s of YouTube fame.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

The field is also a delight to lovers of airplanes. You just never know what will show up next.

Long-EZ
This Rutan Long-EZ belongs to a former C-130 driver I work with. Besides being smaller, no one has shot at it yet that he is aware of.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

[CORRECTION: One of the long time denizens of the XCOR hangar pointed out that this particular Long-EZ is not the one I thought it was, it was just parked in roughly the same place! The one in the photo belongs to Mike Melville, one of the test pilots who flew SpaceShipOne into space in 2004.]

Pseudo fighter
I am not quite sure what it is off the top of my head, but the paint job is… unique.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
F4 with chute
There is at least one F4 still flying regularly here and sometimes I see the pilot playing with it. A week or so ago I saw him do a steep climb with a roll out on top and that was just the take off.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
Kristen Husky
Never saw one of these up close before: the Kristen Husky.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
L29
A friend of mine in Florida has one of these too. It is an old Czech trainer called an L29.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

There is a small legacy park on the field as well, and it is dedicated to the Spaceport. Besides being a very pretty little
desert garden and picnic area, it is there to remind us of the efforts of those who went before us, a few of which made
the ultimate sacrifice.

Mojave Memorial
These are the engineers who died when an N2O oxidizer flow test went very wrong.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
Roton and trees
I first saw Roton in Gary Hudson’s Rotary Rocket Vertical Assembly Building in 1999. It was an awesome bit of work then but they ran out of funding just as the dotcrash began. The building to the right houses a SpaceShipOne Replica.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
Roton
Yes, the Roton is big.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
SpaceShipOne replica
They have a replica of SpaceShipOne in a protective building. It seems so small now. I was here in 2004 to cheer on its first space flight.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

Carrying on from the SpaceShipTwo theme, Scaled Composites main development hangar is next door to us, so I
walk under the wing on the way to lunch on a regular basis; we have seen it flying quite a bit lately. Although I did
not get advance warning and thus did not see it, they did two drop tests last week. After months of quiet and a new
strake added to the architecture, I think they are building up for the big one now. They just have to get their engine
issues sorted out and they are golden.

WhiteKnightTwo
Our neighboring spaceship company has this big white thing.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
WhiteKnightTwo Reflection
Doug Weathers and Doug Jones watch WhiteKnightTwo with an underslung SpaceShipTwo coming to a halt after a captive carry. You can see it reflected in the XCOR hangar window behind them.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo
This is a more direct shot of what was in the reflection.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
WhiteKnightTwo and Hummer
Later on it taxied past our hangar. It passed rather close to me but I did not get my camera unslung fast enough.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
SpaceShipTwo
A few days later I got this shot of SpaceShipTwo being towed past us along the taxiway.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

There are quite a few companies on the flight line and I have not even mentioned most of them. This 747 is notable though as it is one of the two being stripped for parts to build the Stratolaunch carrier airplane which will drop a SpaceX vehicle and allow flight to any orbit at any time. And it will also be the largest airplane every built. Besides SpaceX, Dynetics is also involved, doing much integration work, and some friends of mine are on that side of the project in Huntsville.

747 before
This is a before shot, in April.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved
747 after
If you look closely you can see that the engines have all been pulled now… they are going to power the monster plane that is under construction.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

You may have noticed how little I have said about XCOR and the Lynx spaceplane. Since I am working on it, I now can only tell you to check out their website. The NewSpace world is now real and that means those who talk do not know and those who know do not talk. I will let you guess which category I am in.

There are billions rolling around in NewSpace these days and by next decade it will be tens of billions or more. We are on our way, and if governments do not like it… well, screw ‘em. It is too late. We are going whether they like it or not.

description
The XCOR hangar. There are big things brewing, but if I told you I would have to shred you. And then Doug, Dan, Aleta and Jeff would shred me. So watch this space. The future is a *lot* closer than you ever imagined.
Photo: copyright Dale Amon, All Rights Reserved

26 comments to On the scarcity of one Dale Amon and rumours regarding his whereabouts

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    It might happen even quicker than that, Dale! the news is all about the Higgs-boson God particle, and some scientists are speculating that we will soon be able to switch off mass when sending payloads to Mars, or other places. Though, knowing us, we’ll probably invent a new bomb based on it.

  • Bruce Hoult

    This pic I snapped from overhead in a glider, a few days after that first 100 km high SpaceShipOne flight, may give an idea of the place.

    You can see two orange highlighted F4’s, and one not yet painted, just outside XCor’s (then) hangar, just above the 6.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I am a big fan of the Phantom. There is a fantastic US Navy variant at Duxford, near Cambridge in the UK. I love the shape.

    Very glad to hear about your work with the spacefarers, Dale. It is about time you earned the chance to make some serious bucks doing something you love.

    I must visit there some time. I am in California in mid-October so I will see what I can do.

    Onwards!

  • Alisa

    A life worth living, Dale.

  • Glad to hear you’re doing what you want. All this reminds me of the time 8 years ago (that long?) when I risked missing my flight home so I could drive from LA to Mojave and back to watch the first Spaceship One space flight.

  • Just had a look at my photos from 2004, and, what do you know? A windfarm.

  • Your little mystery plane, Dale, is either an AA5A Cheetah (150 hp) or an AA5B Tiger (180 hp). Both very nice planes to fly, if a little twitchy in the pitch axis.. The nose gear casters so you steer on the ground with differential braking.

    Love the photos from Mojave.

  • Jim

    Fairly new to your website, great to learn more about you. When I first joined US Navy, worked in the control tower at then NWC China Lake late 70s. Seems the entire Mojave desert is an aviation hotbed. The low wing single engine prop, might that be an AA5? Hope you have great success there and thank you for the pictures. You are in a good place. Even with the dry desert heat and sparse vegetation, you may start to love it!

  • Russ

    Dale,

    Wouild relocate to help out in a heartbeat (but like all the other useless liberal-arts-major types, don’t actually have any relevant skills); I gotta say, there’s just TONS of folks who’ve never even heard of Samizdata but share the perspective wishing you guys out there all the success (out of this) world.

    Good luck!

  • Dale, this is awesome! It’s great to see what I envisioned in 1978 coming to fruition, and you getting to be part of it. When Deb and I drove from Fresno to Vegas in January 2004, we passed through that area. I have a picture somewhere I took of the parked planes as seen from the car.

  • Terrific stuff. Please keep telling us whatever you can without then having to kill us.

  • Laird

    The future is a *lot* closer than you ever imagined.

    I sincerely hope that you’re right, Dale. Congratulations on being a part of it. I second what Russ said: I’d love to be there, but I have no relevant skills to offer. So I’ll just continue to watch from the sidelines and wish you and all your compatriots the best.

  • Great report Dale

    The LSM’s at WP all miss you.

    Krystel’s baby is exceptionally cute.

  • reader

    SpaceX is bending metal on the Falcon Heavy which will launch next year and will have the biggest lift capacity in the world. Of all the launchers that ever existed, only the Saturn V moon rocket was bigger.

    Nitpick, thats wrong. Energia had about 100mt lift to LEO

  • So?

    The future is a *lot* closer than you ever imagined.

    Count me as a sceptic then. We simply have not had the improvements in energy density.

  • Dale Amon

    When you are going commercial you build modularly and use profits from each step to pay for the next. There will be larger engines, but Elon has a very reliable engine that has shown no vices in lots of firings and launches. The Merlin is solid, so why would a commercial guy screw with it?

    And yes, the Merlin is not cutting edge. That is absolutely intentional. The only part of it that is really, really cutting edge is that unlike every other engine I am aware of, it has been designed for mass production. They are going to stamp these things out like candy kisses or Keebler cookies.

    I am guessing they will switch to a Merlin-2 later this decade. They are working on it and it is indeed a larger engine. They will need it to go the next step after F9H but they can get by with what they have got.

    Also, the early flights will use the current tried and tested engine, but there will be an uprated version later that will bring F9H up to its design payload.

  • Dale Amon

    If you think energy density is a blocking then you do not understand the problem. The figure of merit is My $/lb < Your $/lb. And if My $/lb < $500/lb, then you hit the territory of the virtuous spiral where the profitability goes up rapidly with falling price due the the increased demand. There is every reason to believe Elon will get at least close to that, and that is all that is needed.

    Once you get into that spiral, it becomes worth while to plough money into finding better ways of doing it because there will be an established demand and competitive market with a customer base shopping for lower $/lb.

    That’s why LOX/hydrocarbon is the way to go. It’s cheap; the systems required to handle it are cheap; the engine required to burn it can be industrial.

    Think business. Screw the science and engineering. Those will come when you have the cash flow to pay for them.

  • So?

    But is a booster company necessarily an engine company? For example, Boeing and Airbus don’t make their own engines. Is there a possibility of slotting in existing engines third party engines. I used to be a Space X sceptic. I hope they light a fire under the asses of the incumbents. BTW, how the hell was this allowed to pass?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Launch_Alliance

  • Dale Amon

    Elon does everything in house and is vertically integrated for a very good reason: old aerospace takes too long and costs too much to do *anything*. It is not even clear most of these companies will be capable of surviving in the new competitive world.

    Some day those functions will be split, but it will not be until the economics demand it. RIght now the economics are solidly on the side of vertical integration.

  • Citizen Stuart

    I envy. You’ve got a job you love in what must be one of the best working environments in the world. I’d work there for minimum wage if I could, but I don’t have the right skills to even apply for a green card.

  • The “unique paint job” is a Grumman American AA-1. That’s the 2-seat plane of which the AA-5 is the 4-seat version.

    Re: the Higgs — sorry, only about 10% of the mass of “ordinary matter” is due to the Higgs field. The remainder is due to the kinetic energy of the nucleus’ constituent quarks and gluons (remember E=mc^2, which means m=E/c^2). The rest is due to the Higgs. So even if you could “switch off the Higgs”, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference to interstellar flight. Oh, well…

  • The people at Sierra Nevada are buying a lot of components for the Dreamchaser mini spacesplane from outside sources and are doing pretty well (so far) .

    And they will be launching on top of an Atlas V.

    It will be interesting to see if, in the long term, they end up launching on a version of the Falcon 9.

  • Dave Walker

    Congratulations, Mr A, and Happy New Job! :-)

    Great article and photo essay, too; looking forward to seeing more here, of what you’re able to tell us, when you’re able to tell us…

  • So?

    Speaking of temporary low-risk, low-performance solutions. The R-7 was considered obsolete only a few years after introduction 50 years ago. It’s still flying. The same luck may befall the Falcon.

  • Mike

    I used to do Army work at Mojave, back in the mid-90s. When I retired I received an invite from one of the firms operating there then, but of course I took the ‘safe’ route and went and got myself another government job.

    Now if you’ll excuse me; I think I’ll go kill myself.

  • Myno

    So when can we expect photos of Texas?