Sunday, May 24, 2015

Doings at Dusty Desert Spaceport

Another week, another tidbit of desperate hope that the Dusty Desert Spaceport will pay off soon.

Start-up Exos Aerospace Systems and Technologies has bought Armadillo Aerospace's assets and supposedly will develop and launch its new gizmo from Dusty Desert.

Armadillo, founded and financed by video game honcho John Carmack, spent years building a sub-orbital craft, then went “into hibernation mode” in 2013 following a crash and other reverses. (Armadillo deserves credit for a game try and for its unusual honesty with the public about its failures.) One story was headlined “Pipe Dream Meets Reality.” But Exos COO John Quinn says that the craft was so near “commercial viability” that Armadillo would have succeeded with one more launch. (Carmack appears not to be involved in Exos.)

The new gizmo, SARGE, would be basically the old STIG-B with a few modifications. The STIG-B crashed last time they flew it; but Orville and Wilbur had plenty of early screw-ups too. Quinn says that the problem has been addressed and that a redundant backup system has been added to ensure success. If SARGE flies, we'll find out.

One report quoted Quinn that Exos “was examining both raising money from investors and seeking strategic partnerships with other companies to fund development of SARGE.” Exos's recent crowd-funding campaign to raise $125,000 to support design work raised only a fraction of that. Quinn acknowledges that that was as much for media relations and publicity as for funding, and says it helped. He says ample financing exists.

I'd read that SARGE would be ready for its first test flight as soon as March 2016, would launch monthly during 2016, then move to a weekly schedule in 2017. Quinn said that was “still the plan,” calling it “an achievable goal.” Exos's website (glowingly) describes its activities in the present tense. Quinn conceded that “maybe the present tense isn't literally true, in that we're not out there flying every day” but insisted that “the capability is there” and mentioned examples of Armadillo accomplishing things in very short time-frames.

David Mitchell, Exos's co-founder and president, is a fourth-generation Texas oil man and a Christian pastor. He runs both the family business, and “NeUventure on Wall Street,” a series of seminars that purport to teach beginners in two days how to make humonguous returns through the stock market. Most professionals would laugh at some of his basic advice, which reportedly includes avoiding diversification, buying stock in only one or two companies you know well, and “timing” the market.

Critics say the seminars mix familiar basic advice with a lot of upselling of additional training. For thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars you can become an “Insider” or even a “Top Gun.”
Quinn, who credits Mitchell with saving him after he lost much of his retirement money, says the program works, and that none of the critics are “Top Guns.” (He said it takes a lot of hard work to reach that level.) He adds that Mitchell, who wouldn't take a salary as a pastor, conducted the seminars free for church members for years before trying to help a wider audience.

I wouldn't sign up for NeUventure, and I hope Spaceport folks haven't fronted any money to Exos. I see a wide gap between present reality and promises. The gizmo crashed last time they tried it and we're halfway through 2015. I hear the promise of regular launches in 2016 in the context of ever-shifting Virgin Galactic's timetables. But I'm pretty ignorant, and will watch with interest.
But Quinn speaks passionately of his hopes for Exos.

Will Exos will help save the Dusty Desert Spaceport? Tune in next year.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 24 May, and should also appear on KRWG's website shortly.]
[Before providing websites readers can visit to learn more and read things for themselves, let me make sure I'm real clear on this: I started by looking at the claims made by Eros and the known facts and remarking on the vast gulf between them; further research tended to widen that gap; and then some research into David Mitchell's "NeUventure" business blew away, for me at least, his last vestige of credibility.  I do not say he's a con man.   I don't know him.  Instinct tells me that a man whose pitch is so involved with his Christianity and his desire to help others is a man who has at least some amount of sincere belief in what he's doing, even if it appears a bit dubious to observers.  But at best he's a man who inherited a good deal of wealth, and runs his family oil company, and preaches some, and collects a pretty penny from desperately hopeful people for "secrets" of making vast wealth by timing stocks and such.    None of that tends to help an already not-too-credible story.  Rather, he's found another set of desperately hopeful people in the Spaceport officials, and is telling them what they so want to hear.]

[But how did this get to be front-page news?  I've wondered.  I don't think I blame the young man who wrote the story.  Young reporters aren't well paid and tend to be over-worked, so give him a pass on not researching this one a little more.  But if he didn't just pick this story out of cyberspace based on its reference to the Spaceport, and someone put it in front of him?  If it was someone with Dusty Desert Spaceport, that person (paid by us) should have recognized the reasons to be skeptical about Exos and either didn't know (sad, because s/he has a responsibility as a public official for doing at least reasonable research and having at least a modicum of good sense) or knew and passed on the story without alerting the reporter.  
But I readily concede that I can't see the future and this thing might somehow turn out wonderfully for all concerned.]

[Websites and sources: Monday's Sun-News story is here; the on-line Space News story quoted in it is at ; this is an earlier story on Armadillo going into "hibernation" mode; this is Exos's website, which uses the present tense to describe a bunch of schedules and launches that I presume exist only in some remote and uncertain future plans, and the Biographies are worth a glance too; the Kickstarter pitch  ,  with indications that it's failing miserably as a fund-raising mechanism; this is the website for "NeUventure on Wall Street."  And here are two web-sites -- a review of a "NeUventure on Wall Street" seminar and an expert analysis of a Mitchell handout on investing -- from which I'll quote liberally below.  I think the material as a whole would lead one to be concerned that "Neuventure" might be a scam, and by extension to avoid relying too heavily on Exos's plans and promises.]

[In fact, logic would tell us that if Mitchell's methods could consistently make the huge returns some of his supporters claim, he'd be more famous than Warren Buffett (whom he apparently quotes, a little misleadingly, as supporting his anti-diversification view).  If he had shown through his performance that diversification wasn't a pretty good idea long term, there'd be a lot written about it; and, as someone pointed out, if his methods were as sound as claimed, and he were so intent on helping everyone, he could help a great many more people by opening a mutual fund folks could invest in.
Still, Exos is not NeUventure.  Maybe something good will happen.]

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