Layoffs at XCOR Aerospace This Morning

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)
Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

I’m getting reports about layoffs at XCOR this morning at their operations in Mojave and Midland. I don’t have a precise number, but it seems to have been a significant staff reduction. Some of the folks working on Lynx were let go. Another employee posted on Facebook that this was his last day because he was going to work for SpaceX in Florida.

I don’t know what this means for the company or for the Lynx space plane project. I will provide some more details when I know them.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Layoffs normally mean a shortage of money. Has XCOR lost a contract? Or burnt its way through its capital?

  • mzungu

    Or, that they finally finished their development and transistioning to a new phase of prosperity with a newly designed Lynx VI … LOL

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, I am hoping they are able to hang on as their design is good.

  • Douglas Messier

    With a heart 3x too small, the Grinch cackles with unbridled job at the misfortunes of all the little Whos down in Whoville.

    I have no such luxury. These are friends of mine.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    It’s the wings! They aren’t finished! The production effort cost more money than originally expected…I don’t see any good coming out of this. Can anyone say bankruptcy? Can anyone say, I want my money back or I will sue?

  • ThomasLMatula

    It is sad. XCOR has great engines, but they keep running into problems with the airframe for the Lynx. Scaled Composites is great at doing airframes but has nothing but problems with their engines for SpaceShipTwo. Together they would probably be unstoppable, but apart they just don’t seem able to go forward.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, a good friend of mine has stock in the company. Hopefully those that lost their jobs will find new ones soon with firms like Blue Origins and SpaceX that are ramping up. But it will be difficult as they will need to move when they do.

  • Stu

    It has top be hard in this game. The market (at least for Lynx) would appear to be vanishingly small, set against a lot of expensive R&D. It probably all seemed like a good idea a few years ago when suborbital space tourism was all the rage (and just around the corner).

  • patb2009

    Usually rocket engines are measured by a couple of measures. 1) Specific Impulse, 2) T/W ratio 3) Purchase price 4) Operating cost/second 5) Throttle 6) Restart cycles… I’m not aware of any of these figures for XCOR engines. Are you?

  • patb2009

    Blue Origins is in Seattle, SpaceX is mostly in West Los Angeles… That may be a major increase in quality of life.

  • mzungu

    Not like I haven’t gotten lay-off before. 😛 Think everyone worked in aerospace have a few under the belt… 8 or 9 out of 10 projects that we worked on got cancelled one time or the other… Just being realistic on their chances, cool-aids aside.

    Think those friends of yours have seen this coming months back as well. Eternal optimism can drive a company to the ground just as quickly as cynicism.

  • mzungu

    That’s a good point. I always found it weird they never try to sell the engines. Nor it seem to have published any specs…

  • Douglas Messier

    I’ve spent the day trying to support my friends who got laid off and steer them toward people I know who are hiring. So I feel like I’ve done what I can to help them out.

    They read this blog. Seeing someone gleefully laughing his ass off about them getting fired is rubbing salt in the wound. I’m not really upset about this because, as I said, you rarely fail to live down to low expectations. I feel bad for them having to read it.

    I’m sure they’re tough enough to take it. Some anonymous commenter laughing at them from behind an alias is really the least of their problems right now. Your not willing to put your name and reputation behind your opinions, so how seriously can anyone take them?

  • You bring up a point I’ve been thinking about for years: car companies always make their own engines – aircraft companies never do. What fundamentally drives this difference? Rocket companies have always been run like airplane companies in this regard – but is that because of the nature of the problem, or the traditions of the participants? New companies are trying do both, but not all of them are succeeding, why is that? What is the driving (as in first principles) force behind this?

  • mzungu

    Well, I am glad you are helping them out. I hope they be OK too. My criticism is most if not all on the company and how the management is taking it, not these employees. I am sure some are very talented, would not be surprised if they are smarter than me.

    I just wish they sticks to their expertise in building engines and selling them to all these small launcher startups, which may saved the company a few years back. Anyway, nuf of that. Cheers.

  • Stu

    Actually, small car companies actually tend to purchase engines in from other suppliers as it isn’t economic to R&D them themselves (e.g. Lotus use Toyota, Caterham use Ford, Morgan use BMW, etc). Lotus have in the past developed their own engines, but they were never able to get the reliability. Their V8 was particularly problematic.

    I suspect (with no evidence) that part of the reason that aircraft manufacturers do not manufacture engines is down to manufacturing agreements. e.g. An American airline might be happy buying an Airbus, but they need to be seen to purchase American engines. Likewise, a European airline might go Boeing but have CFM or RR engines. The model provides a lot of flexibility to provide a product that is partly locally sourced.

    The other reason most likely has to be complexity. A modern jet engine is insanely complex – a single manufacturer might struggle to use enough units to justify the R&D and tooling. Like any industry it makes sense to buy in components where the cost of developing them yourself would not be economic.

    I guess with companies like XCOR doing airframe and engine, it just comes down to a very immature and tiny market.

  • Douglas Messier

    One wing had been built, another was pending once XCOR could pay for it.

    Actually, Doug Jones mentioned during the Space Access conference in April that they were still working on closing the loop on the engine. Apparently they had done it on the test stand but there was more work to be done for operational conditions.

    I’ve published an update: http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/05/28/xcor-layoffs-update/

  • Douglas Messier

    Fair enough.

  • patb2009

    I have inquired on the specs at various times and been told the numbers were proprietary…

  • patb2009

    1) The mfg scales are radically different. GM can sell 20-40Million units/year. If you can save $10/unit, that’s real money. Boeing is selling hundreds.

    2) It’s really hard to do an engine. Very different mindset from airframing.

    3) SpaceX and Blue Origin are going vertical. Historical primes have preferred the integrator model.

  • Stu

    Out of interest, what do you base the assertion that the quality of composite work is poor? I’m not saying it is or isn’t, I’d just like to understand how you have come to the conclusion.

  • mzungu

    When u designing composite structures, you typically wants to keep the parts flat, or gently curved, so you don’t bend the fibers too much, which reduces it’s strength. That’s not the case with their cabin, which is full of X-crossing ribs. Google up pitures of composite fuselage, or pressure vessels, and u c that Noone in the industry chose to design them this way, there is a reason for that.

    The cabin structure also looks like it’s done with a wet layup, beca use of all the crossing ribs, which tend to result in a more resin saturated structure that is heaven than it could. Because of all the ribs, it can not be even vacuum bagged to lighten it up. Nor will it be easy for an inspector to check for any delamination in the structure bcus of that…even model aircraft builders use wet layup now days. 😛 much less on crew carrying plane.

    Maybe they did it to get it out quick and dirty, but it’s weird, because the other panels and such they sourced seem to be well designed and manufactured. Maybe they over design the shit out of it, and it’s OK, and maybe their engine is powerful enuf to push that extra weight up, but it sure look like it can be better.

  • Stu

    Thanks for the insight.

  • Scott

    Isp, T/W are both pretty average (if not slightly below) for most of their engines. What makes there engines great is the lower manufacture and maintenance costs, and they have deep throttle capabilities. They are pretty quiet about details surrounding their equipment, gets a little frustrating sometimes when you are bored and want to do some back of the envelope calculations

    I don’t have specific references but I know a little bit about their engines, the 5K18 is really the best representation of their design mindset. Biggest thing is they use high performance automotive parts manufacturers for their pump components instead of traditional aerospace manufacturers so they have about 100 fold decrease in many of the component cost. Since the Lynx is designed to be gased up and reflown the cooling chambers on engine are designed to prevent coking during operation, in addition to using lower chamber temperatures which reduce between flight maintenance costs. IIRC they have about 20-30% throttle capability, regardless of their engine cycle (which I haven’t gotten a straight answer) the piston pump allows the engine to throttle without introducing pressure/mass flow fluctuations. Also the engine they are designing for ULA uses an aluminum nozzle, which allows them to use any high quality machine shop or 3D printing instead of limited specialized shops that work with exotic materials.

    I would say the work they do on their engines is very unique and innovative, it’s unfortunate that they haven’t been more successful selling their engines.

  • Scott

    This is not the first time this has happened for them either, they have had multiple lean times in the past. What really concerns me is the change out in management, Xcor wasn’t accomplishing what the founders were desiring and they are starting a new company during a period of struggling for Xcor

  • patb2009

    If you can point me at a specific citation for Isp and T/W and purchase price, i’d be appreciative.

  • mzungu

    Unfortunately, customer wanting reusability is far and few in between. I don’t know if they tried selling it to VG or if it’s even a good spec match, but that would of been a good symbiotic relation ship if they weren’t so set competing for paying tourists. 😛

    Still, the quantity of reusable engine you can sell is by nature very small too, can’t see anyone buying more than 3 or 4…

  • Scott

    “Unfortunately, customer wanting reusability is far and few in between.”

    That was really more intended for use on the Lynx anyways but I did spend sometime with one of their engineers asking if they had ever thought to use the Lynx equipment to build a reusable unmanned VTVL (parachute landing) suborbital rocket. They weren’t interested in the idea because of the added development of extra control systems, guidance, payload interfaces basically too much money to get it going and not in line with the companies goals. The elements of the engine that make it reusable reusable however can actually serve to improve cooling efficiencies on the nozzles and reduce the mass of the cooling systems so it does have applications beyond reusable engines, some of that is what allows them to use aluminum in the construction of the engine nozzle for ULA.

    “Still, the quantity of reusable engine you can sell is by nature very small too, can’t see anyone buying more than 3 or 4…”

    Today probably pretty close but if we have a human colony on the moon or Mars those engines would be worth their weight in gold and might be shipped out by the crate full. There are conceivable economies in which those engines would be highly desirable but today not much of anything