Experiencing Commercial Space Up Close and Personal

I’ve had a chance recently to make some cool trips. I found myself in Mojave, California, earlier this month at a Mojave Makers workshop. I was asked to be a guest speaker and share my Mojave, Huntsville, past and future experiences. It was a lot of fun! It had been a long time since I have been to Mojave. It has changed a lot! I worked there for Scaled Composites back in the 2000-2001 timeframe.

Back to the Maker talk: If you are not familiar with the “Maker” movement, you should be. The idea is that people who like to innovate, design, and build cool projects often cannot afford a full-fledged workshop by themselves. What usually happens is a “Makers” group is established in a region with the intent of providing a central hub for people to pursue cool projects. People can join the Makers group and have 24-hour access for a fixed monthly fee. That fee will gain each member full access to pursue projects at the shop and use any available equipment with which to construct their project. People are building robots, rovers, rocket engines, etc. I saw lots of folks there that I knew from Scaled, Masten, The SpaceShip Company, Xcor, etc. I even got to speak with Dick Rutan. He is a hero and legend in the world of experimental successes. He is best known for flying Voyager around the world without stopping! He is a great guy. He teaches flying to students in Mojave.

The day after the Maker event, I had an opportunity to return to Scaled Composites and visit a few friends. I was working as lead propulsion engineer many years ago, and it was interesting to return and see old friends. They happened to be having their 30th Anniversary Lunch at Scaled. They had many of the Scaled aircraft out on the flightline. I saw an old friend named White Knight One, which was used to drop SpaceShipOne. I also talked to Pete Siebold who was pilot of SS1. He told me that Saturday morning he would be flying White Knight Two for a Virgin Galactic glide test. Well, that test happened, and it went great. It was great to see Scaled still pushing the envelope. It did not seem the same though without Burt Rutan’s antics and energy. I miss Burt.

I also got to visit Masten Aerospace and see David Masten. He gave me a great tour of the shop. I got to meet the crew. They are doing amazing stuff with landers. They made a successful flight last week before my visit. I got to touch two landers that have both flown. I felt like I was touching some cool history.

As I drove around the Mojave airport, I saw a lot of new construction. Many huge windmills were everywhere and were being installed on the west side of town. I saw the new Stratolaunch building being constructed, and not far from it was the Space Ship Company, which is where Richard Branson will build the production version of SS2 that Scaled is under contract to develop.

There is so much I could say about how cool Mojave is and how much fun I had.

I may have to save my Bigelow visit for another blog, but that was amazing too!

Anyway, commercial space is alive and well! Keep looking up!

Practicing Innovation

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: “to change”) rather than doing the same thing better. (Definition from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

As an inventor, an engineer, an entrepreneur, a speaker/motivator, and even a hobbyist, I’ve always believed in thinking “outside the box” to come up with creative solutions.  Often that involves taking risks. When we continue to do things the way they have always been done, we get left behind. It takes doing things differently to move ahead. I’ve seen this happen over and over.

Pickens Innovations is based on this philosophy. I recently left Dynetics as Chief Propulsion Engineer and Commercial Space Advisor to offer consulting services to space and technology companies in various areas, as well as technical product development and marketing.

My unconventional thinking started in my garage with projects I dreamed up and built. It led me to Mojave, Calif., where I served as the Lead Propulsion Designer on SpaceShipOne. It eventually inspired me to start a business. Other Space companies wanted to launch rockets and most failed; I wanted to sell shovels to coal miners. And I did. And it worked.

I sold Orion Propulsion to Dynetics in December 2009 after growing it to a $6.4 million, 40-person company, thanks to my dedicated team’s focus, hard work, and willingness to innovate. Running a small start-up Space company gave me valuable insight into developing and marketing products and working with government and commercial customers and meeting their schedules, quality demands, and cost needs.

Although the bulk of my experience has been in the Space industry, I am branching out into other technical areas. I have been developing devices to support various needs in the medical field. I have formed companies with some colleagues to develop multiple medical devices that could be very instrumental in saving lives. I have several ideas in the medical arena that I am excited about pursuing.

I love to solve complex problems with simple and affordable solutions. I see many needs in the science, medical, and aerospace arenas. I am always hand sketching concepts and designs that are attempting to solve problems that really bother me. Lately, I have been thinking about altitude compensating nozzles and all the great benefits they could offer a first stage launch system if they could be made simple and affordable. I think I am getting close to building some hardware to prove to myself that my approach is not far-fetched.

I will be speaking at lunch on Monday, August 13, at the Technology Symposium of the Space & Missile Defense Conference at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville. I’ll be talking about disruptive technologies and innovation. I hope to see you there. This is the first year the conference has dedicated an entire day to technology.

My website and LinkedIn profile reflect my new direction and the services I am offering. See my YouTube-based video resume.

Please use the Contact Form on my website to get in touch with me.