Non-Profit Group Bought XCOR’s Assets & IP

Message left on the XCOR engine test stand. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

On Friday, Space.com published a story I wrote about how Build A Plane had purchased XCOR’s assets for use in a school it wants to build down the road in Lancaster. The organization, which focuses on getting planes donated to schools, has launched a parallel program called Build A Rocket.

In addition to the physical assets, Build A Plane also gained control of XCOR’s intellectual property (IP). The IP of Rotary Rocket was included in the purchase.

“Build A Rocket has a number of great uses for the XCOR IP,” said founder Lyn Freeman wrote in an email to Parabolic Arc. “We will likely not sell the technology outright, but instead license it.

“Several folks have engaged us about the rocket IP, but again, we’re planning on keeping it in the family for use in our various youth educational projects,” he added.

XCOR was developing an upper stage for ULA’s new Vulcan launch vehicle. ULA ended funded for the contract in 2017, causing XCOR to lay off its remaining staff at the end of June. Some staff members were kept on board on a contract basis, but the company declared bankruptcy in November 2017.

Build A Plane bought the assets at an auction whose opening bid was $1 million. Space Florida, which was XCOR’s main creditor, bid the minimum. Build A Plane outbid Florida’s space agency with an offer of $1.065 million. The money came from an anonymous donor.

Freeman explained how the assets would be used for the organization’s new program, Build A Rocket:

“The idea being that we could get kids — if we had a stellar faculty — that we could get students from all over the country who were to come and learn about aerospace and rocketry specifically,” he said. “The cool thing is that this school would be co-located with a functioning aerospace company, so that when they designed rocket components, for example, they could then open the doors and step out into 20,000 square feet [1,858 square meters] of aerospace fabrication equipment and engineers and people that were in the business doing it right then and there.”

The partner for the project is Sage Cheshire Aerospace, a Lancaster-based fabrication company that built the Red Bull Stratos capsule that Felix Baumgartner used to set a new parachute jump record in October 2012. The partners have been searching for property on which to build the school and a production facility.

The partners are looking for property in Lancaster where they can build the facility.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Slick deal! And at a bargain price as well. I wonder if they will make out as well as Iridium did.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You mean get bailed out by a Canadian front company acting on behalf of the US military?

  • Douglas Messier

    Go on….

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The Canadian company that purchased Iridium when they went out of business in th early 2000’s received funds from DARPA, and landed contract after contract from the US military for the WOT. I seem to remember the corporate board was made up of ex Canadian and US military. My memory may flawed, however I remember watching Iridium collapse and get picked up and maintained by the US military. Hey, I’m not saying it was a bad thing. Iridium needed to be saved. It’s just that it was a fair amount of socialism that kept it alive and not a daring act of capitalism.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Well with luck the numerous patents and IP from XCOR will bring a good stream of funding to this non-profit. Space Florida would have probably just sold the IP to old space to bury in their files. And XCOR is back home in Mojave where it belongs. They would have probably never gone bankrupt if they have stayed in their original location.

  • Henry Vanderbilt

    The story could have had a worse ending, and the IP and hardware could have found a worse home.

    It’ll be interesting to see what their licensing terms are. I hope they set it up so there’s a bargain-basement entry for people who want to tinker with the stuff, with room to escalate payments if they ever get to the point of making money with something incorporating the IP.

    It’ll be interesting to see how that school shapes up. I think there’s room for an Embry-Riddle of rocketry, the way the industry is expanding lately. Maybe this will be it?

  • Henry Vanderbilt

    (Space.com insists on a fb account to comment, so I’m posting here. Doug, could you pass this on to Lyn Freeman?)

    [RE the mention that he sees no future for Lynx in the space.com story]

    Given that understanding of Lynx, it might make sense to bundle up the Lynx-related hardware and documents, and essential Lynx-specific IP like the aerodynamics specs and data, and consider selling it as a package to some interested party.

    I know there was at least one major aerospace outfit talking to XCOR about Lynx in the last year or two. (Cough, Lockheed-Martin, cough.) And given what a surprise it was that Build A Plane stepped up here, who knows who else might be interested.

    Could be there’s some funding to be raised for Build A Plane there.

  • Ian1102

    The group assembled by Dan Colussy in 2000 to rescue Iridium had no Canadian investors (although they tried to bring one in). Besides Colussy, the group had four main investors, including one American group (Syncom), a Saudi prince, plus Brazilian and Australian telecom investors. All this is recounted in the recent book, Eccentric Orbits (https://www.amazon.com/Eccentric-Orbits-Iridium-John-Bloom/dp/0802126782). Highly recommended read if you are interested in distressed space deals.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Thanks for that. Sorry for going off topic. But that book goes on my Amazon list. Thanks!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Henry,

    Their website has contact information on it.

    505-980-5915
    pam@buildaplane.org

    http://www.buildaplane.com/

  • patb2009

    it would have been probably cheaper for the US Navy to just buy Iridium on the auction block.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Our governments are representative. They represent the interests of constituents that can return a favor to the representative. That inefficiency constitutes the function of an entire economy of exchange of cash, and favors, and social standing within communities that you and I don’t get to play in. No economic model escapes it, I’d go as far as to say it’s part of the function of all economic models to support that kind of activity to one degree or another.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    My suspicion is Vector is in a similar trap after taking that Pima county money. So far, I suspect they are in a race condition where the money they raise requires outlays just outside the reach of the monies they bring in. Hope I’m wrong, but when they(XCOR) took the Midland money, I asked myself if they could afford that money or not. If your figuring is right they could not.

  • Bill Douglass

    What about the LYNX Spaceplane? It was not mentioned at all !

  • Henry Vanderbilt

    Hard to say for sure what would or would not have happened without the Midland move.

    But doing the Midland move without first being sure they’d have a long enough runway, permission to ground-test rocket engines, and willingness to relocate from all rather than just part of their vital core engineering staff, well – ending up split between Midland and Mojave certainly didn’t help.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Dude, seriously? He said the Lynx will never fly. And the molds and other Lynx-specific are basically worthless.

  • patb2009

    All of XCOR basically sold for a few hundred grand.

  • patb2009

    maybe you could take the Lynx molds and make a real weather-proof model
    put it up on a pole across from the Roton.

  • Alexander Bruccoleri

    As sad as it is to see XCOR go out of business, I am really glad the assets are going towards education. XCOR was trying to do bold things and it was hard. Hopefully the students who learn from their IP and hardware will contribute to making space accessible to all.

  • MzUnGu

    There is only like 8 patents assigned to Xcor Aerospace on Google ‘s Patent search…. Would not call that much of a IP treasure chest… 😛

  • duheagle

    There are zero patents with SpaceX’s name on them. What conclusion do you draw from that? XCOR may also have chosen to rely on trade secrets, rather than patents, to protect a lot of its stuff.

  • MzUnGu

    So much for trade secrets when there is no employees to hold them or to enforce them … or maybe they have a secret safe somewhere in the hanger. 🙂 As with all small companies I worked with, documentation are usually pretty thin…and a company very much need to declare that info as a trade secret, like stamping pages of reports and keeps locks and keys, and sign item specific NDAs to differentiate it from just common rocket science.

    XCOR have the size to do that? LOL

  • publiusr

    Frankly–Lynx may have more value in this role than if it had flown.

    Years ago, when I was a kid, I had this idea that the school needed to have a cockpit of a crashed plane as a playhouse out in the playground–where kids could go in, flip a switch or three, sit in the flight engineer seat (back when we had both)

    Let ones imagination soar.

    On a trip to Huntsville, I got to sit inside an Apollo capsule as a kid. Great fun.
    Yes a smart phone had more memory than all of mission control–let alone the rocket–but still….it’s not the same.

    Let’s put cockpits in playgrounds. Let kids stay in there for hours if they want.

    No actual working electronics mind you–just the imagination.