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My February birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black it now over. I sincerely and with deep gratitude thank all those who donated. Without your support I could not keep doing this, not so much because of the need for income to pay the bills, but because it tells me that there are people out there who want me to do this work. For those who did not contribute during the campaign, please consider adding your vote of support to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


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Virgin Orbit pauses operations; seeks funding

Virgin Orbit today paused all operations for at least a week, putting almost its entire staff on furlough as it seeks new financing.

Chief Executive Dan Hart told staff that the furlough would buy Virgin Orbit time to finalise a new investment plan, a source who attended the event told Reuters news agency. It was not clear how long the furlough would last, but Mr Hart said employees would be given more information by the middle of next week.

If Virgin Orbit dies, its death will be because a British government agency killed it. The company had planned on launching from Cornwall in the early fall of 2022, at the latest, and then do several other launches in 2022, all of which would have earned it revenue. Instead, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) delayed issuing the launch license until January 2023, about a half a year later, preventing Virgin Orbit from launching for that time and literally cutting it off from any ability to make money. The result was that it ran out of funds.

Obviously the launch failure that followed the CAA’s approval did not help. Nor did the company’s decision to rely on only one 747 to launch its satellites. Nonetheless, the fault of this company’s death can mostly be attributed to a government bureaucracy that failed in its job so badly that it destroyed a private company.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Edward

    Since Virgin Orbit ran out of funds, I think we can see why they didn’t yet have the funds to buy and modify a second aircraft. Had they done so, they probably would have run out of money last year before early fall, when they were scheduled to launch the satellite from Cornwall.

    One of the tricky things about starting a company or a new product line is to be sure to have enough facilities to provide the initial service, which would be expected to be for a low number of customers willing to try something new, and to price the product so that customers come to your door and so that you can expand as demand grows. Virgin Orbit rightly thought that one aircraft would be sufficient to start, but they wrongly thought that launching from the UK would be a good PR move.

    However Robert’s point is well taken, that had the UK’s CAA issued a launch license in a timely manner then the company most likely would have launched another payload by now and remained solvent.

    From the article:

    The ambition [for the UK] is to turn the country into a global player – from manufacturing satellites, to building rockets and creating new spaceports.

    The lesson everyone is learning: doing space business in the UK may cause bankruptcy. Investors are unlikely to be enthusiastic about companies that want to launch there. One of the desirable features of small launchers is an ability for relatively quick service, but with the CAA taking so long to approve a standard launch, that availability for quick launch stops being a sales point for launches from the UK. The UK is likely way behind in the competition as a global player, and it probably does not know it yet. If I could launch in four months with Rocket Lab or in nine months with a UK launch, I am unlikely to choose the UK, because with the former company, I can start generating a revenue stream five months earlier. That is important for any company, not just small or startup companies

    An advantage of small satellites is their low cost to produce, low cost to launch, and quick manufacture time. These are three desirable attributes for new companies or small companies that do not have a lot of money and are under schedule pressure to begin revenue service with their next satellite. Even a reasonably well financed company, such as Virgin Orbit, can run out of money if revenues are delayed.

    I wish Virgin Orbit luck in finding new funds. Launch is a tough business, and I would hate to lose any of our promising entrants to the business.

    Although more than a hundred companies expressed interest in starting smallsat launch services, only about a score of them have shown progress toward that goal, and only about a third of those are launching or on the verge of launching. The growing cadence of SpaceX Transporter launches of multiple smallsats shows that the demand for smallsat launches is continuing to grow. These emerging smallsat launch companies should be able to do well in their field, but only if government does not get in their way.

  • Jeff Wright

    Frankly, even if the UK handed Branson the keys to a working Star Trek shuttlecraft-Musk would likely STILL beat him.

    Richard seems to have caught the bad luck bug that plagued poor Gary Hudson,

  • Edward

    Great Britain is doing serious damage to itself, its own space industry, and the space industry in general. Virgin Orbit was badly harmed by a slow bureaucracy, but it was not the only company harmed.
    Robert wrote:

    During the hearings CAA officials justified their actions, and appeared unwilling to consider any changes.

    Here is another company adversely affected by Britain’s slow CAA, and we don’t know how many others have been, too. From the linked article from the above link:

    [Welsh company] Space Forge, which wants to produce alloys in the microgravity of space, was hoping to become the first company to successfully bring a satellite back down to Earth. But it said that lengthy delays by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) coupled with the launch failure had left it six months behind the competition when it had been six months ahead. It now plans to launch with SpaceX in the US.

    Patrick McCall, non-executive director at Space Forge, told MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee, that if the company sought to launch again in the UK it would be given “short shrift” by investors. “I think unless there is a seismic change in that approach the UK is not going to be competitive from a launch perspective,” he said.

    So, we have a potential customer that lost a year of business due to CAA delays, possibly taking away a valuable advantage in timing of its entry into the space manufacturing market, but also the start of its revenue stream. The CAA delays are bad for business, and it seems to me that the CAA, which is unwilling to consider changing its ways, may be working for its own purposes rather than for its citizen’s purposes. A responsible governmental regulation bureau would make sure that it is helping, not hindering, its people and their companies. Jobs may flee Great Britain if the CAA does not get its act together, and Britain’s space industry could be just as damaged as it has been for the past half century when its government first abandoned its launch industry.

    We have been waiting half a century for the promised superior products that could come from space manufacturing. Government agencies have been more about doing research for the future than helping companies provide goods for the present. But now that having these products seems imminent, we discover that once again government is delaying them.

    For half a century, people have been asking what good it is for governments to spend money on space rather than give that money to poor people so that they can continue to not work. The answer has always been that benefits from space were just about to come. Now that they are almost here, governmental bureaucracies are continuing to delay them.

    How much cheaper would these exotic materials be once Starship can put the raw materials into space for ridiculously low cost? Yet the US’s FAA can’t be bothered to approve a two-year-old SpaceX application for a test launch.

    We humans created governments in order for them to help us, but instead they hinder us, then pat themselves on the back and assure themselves that they have done their jobs well. They haven’t, but the bureaucrats go home at the end of the day with a nice paycheck and a fat pension, and the poor are still worse off.

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