Virgin Galactic lawsuit against Firefly moves forward

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Virgin Galactic last week moved forward aggressively in its lawsuit against Firefly Space Systems, its officers, and its business partners for using stealing trade secrets.

According to the Complaint, Galactic hired Markusic in 2011 as its VP of Propulsion. Markusic’s role gave him intimate knowledge of the Company’s research into liquid rocket propulsion, space vehicle architecture, “aerospike” technology, and other confidential projects. While still employed at Galactic, Markusic allegedly solicited business partners and founded Firefly based on concepts and data he obtained in the course of his work. Galactic maintains that Markusic and Firefly relied on and continues to use the Company’s technical and marketing information, as well as Markusic’s engineering notes from his tenure at Galactic, to develop products such as a recently announced small launch vehicle.

The worst thing about this court battle to me is that if Virgin Galactic has developed worthwhile technology in connection with the aerospike engine, they have done nothing to develop it, and are now acting to squelch someone else’s effort.


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  • Calvin Dodge

    They’ve already effectively closed Firefly. What are they trying to do now? Make the rubble bounce?

  • Tom Billings

    This seems more than a bit punitive, to the point of seeking to “teach a lesson” to others in the field, since Firefly is no longer competitive. That is an unwelcome development. It is truly strange that a company focused on pursuing SpaceShip2 in 2013 would be working on aerospikes at all, and even more so that having decided not to pursue them, they are trying to keep others from doing so. It’s not like others have not flown these sorts of engines in the recent past, after long labors of their own.

    George Whitesides did not show this level of vindictiveness in any association we have had with him. I am wondering about Mr. Branson, however. Is there a claim of some specific improvement being stolen that is truly worthwhile, …or is Branson saying that “if *I* ever paid you to work on aerospikes, you cannot work on aerospikes for anyone else”???

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “if Virgin Galactic has developed worthwhile technology in connection with the aerospike engine, they have done nothing to develop it, and are now acting to squelch someone else’s effort.

    This is starting to remind me of the Wright Brothers. They invented the airplane and three axis control, then spent the next several years defending their patents instead of continuing to advance the state of the art. But then again, the Wrights had been shopkeepers, not inventors, so it is hard to say how much additional ingenuity was left in them.

    Virgin Galactic may end up doing the same thing, except without the patents to defend. The heritage Virgin companies are not engineering companies but provide services to the general public. Virgin may not have a lot of ingenuity or much incentive to develop the aerospike engine.

    It is hard to say what is proprietary to Virgin, what they innovated themselves, but I wonder whether this lawsuit is merely sour grapes that Markusic left to start his own company, working on the same type of engine (as Tom Billings just suggested).

    According to Firefly’s website, Markusic is already well versed in rocketry, having been “Principal Propulsion Engineer at SpaceX” as well as a lifelong propulsion engineer, so it is difficult to know what he may have learned at Virgin or why Virgin thinks that he is using their proprietary information.

    The advantage to the arbitration and disadvantage of the courts is that in the courts the proprietary information may end up becoming public knowledge.

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