At a session today from the International Space Development Conference going in Orlando, Florida, the CEO of the commercial space company XCOR Aerospace had a few suggestions for all the eager space enthusiasts out there concerning test flights. In so many words Jeff Greason said everyone needs to chill out about the results from initial test flights. Of course, he was talking about all the test flights taking place with commercial space endeavors, but with the Ares 1-X getting ready to head to the launch pad for its first flight test, scheduled for August, perhaps we all need heed Greason’s advice and let the experts do their jobs.
Greason said in the past when they first started testing their early designs, “no one knew where Mojave was, we could test all sorts of strange things, and people would not be Twittering and blogging about what we did every day. But now it’s going on under a glare of publicity.”
While he appreciates the interest everyone is showing in the nascent commercial spaceflight industry and how people are watching with great enthusiasm and consuming every scrap of news, he is not exactly thrilled with tone of some of the commentary on what is being said on commercial flight tests.
“It’s called flight test for a reason,” Greason said. “You find problems, you always do. Any airplane you’ve ever ridden on had problems turn up on flight test program. Some of the most successful aircraft programs in history had a ridiculous number of problems show up in the flight test program. There is no correlation whatsoever between whether you or not you have problem in the flight test program and how good the finished product is. But there is a huge correlation whether you fix the problems you find in flight tests. ”
Greason said it isn’t helpful for journalists and the public to jump on every glitch and issue that comes up in every mission and say the sky is falling. “Just wait until flight tests to finish and by then there should be an answer. I see lot of blog posts three minutes after a flight test, saying the sky is falling. Stuff happens. So, I have a plea for the knowledgeable people out there: When you’re neighbor says ‘The sky is falling,’ tell them, ‘No, it’s just flight tests.”
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Greason said flight tests are designed to find the problems and allow the engineers to fix the problems. But they take time. “That’s why I or anyone else never commits to how long flight tests lasts. Flight tests take as long as it going to take. When you fix the problems, that’s the end of the flight test program.”
Greason said he knows everyone is enthused because they want to see the missions happen, but every vehicle is a “new beast with their own design issues.”
More information on how XCOR designs and tests their vehicles, see this article from TimeCompression.com.