Henry Vanderbilt on XCOR’s Bankruptcy

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason inspects the Lynx main engine after a hotfire test while Chief Test Engineer Doug Jones looks on. (Credit: XCOR)

Space is hard. Space startups immensely so.

XCOR’s decision to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Tuesday marks the end of a company that seemed to be in perpetual start-up mode since its founding 18 years ago. Lacking a billionaire backer with deep pockets and a thick Rolodex, the company attempted to develop revolutionary rocket engine technology and a suborbital space plane with funding that would be a rounding error for the giant aerospace primes.

So, how far did it get? What might bidders find valuable when XCOR’s assets are auctioned off? And what problems might have helped to cause the company’s fatal plunge into insolvency?

Henry Vanderbilt has a few ideas on these subjects. Henry is an XCOR shareholder who worked at the company back in the day. He went on to found the Space Access Society, whose conferences were a highlight of the year for the New Space community until recently.
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XCOR Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Lynx suborbital space plane (Credit: XCOR)

MOJAVE, Calif. – Troubled XCOR Aerospace, a pioneer in reusable rocket engine technology, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court on Wednesday, according to court documents.

The filing will lead to the liquidation of the 18-year old company, whose engine technology was designed to power the two-person Lynx suborbital space plane XCOR was building. The vehicle, which was designed to take off and land on a runway, was only partially completed before most work on it stopped last year.

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Last of XCOR’s Founders Leaves Company

Doug Jones

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (DSI PR) — Deep Space Industries is pleased to announce that Doug Jones, formerly chief test engineer at XCOR, is joining the company’s growing team as director of propulsion systems.

“We see Doug as one of the top rocket engineers in the country, and a great addition to our first-class team of small-spacecraft engineers,” said Bill Miller, the chief executive officer of Deep Space Industries.  “He will be helping us develop the high performance, inexpensive propulsion that is critical to radically lowering the cost of deep space exploration.”

Mr. Jones has designed, built and tested over a dozen different rocket designs for a wide range of customers, including two manned vehicles. Doug has decades of aerospace engineering experience ranging from liquid rocket engine design to vehicle system optimization, and has flown aboard a rocket aircraft multiple times while serving as flight test engineer during the development of the XCOR X-Racer.

“Doug Jones is joining DSI at the perfect moment to lead our in-house development of the high-performance propulsion system for our Prospector series of deep space missions,” said Grant Bonin, DSI’s chief technology officer. “We couldn’t be more excited.”

Editor’s Note: And then there were none. Jeff Greason, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson preceded Jones out the door. There are no more founders at XCOR.

XCOR Lays off Remaining Employees

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Struggling XCOR Aerospace has laid off its remaining employees in Mojave, Calif. and Midland, Texas.

“Due to adverse financial conditions XCOR had to terminate all employees as of 30 June 2017,” the company said in a statement. “XCOR management will retain critical employees on a contract basis to maintain the company’s intellectual property and is actively seeking other options that would allow it to resume full employment and activity.”

The move follows the news last month that CEO Jay Gibson was leaving the company after President Donald Trump nominated him for a high-level position at the Department of Defense. Gibson left the company at the end of June.

XCOR hired Gibson in March 2015 to replace founder Jeff Greason. The objective was for Gibson to focus on the business side while Greason focused on completing construction on the two-seat Lynx suborbital space plane.

That arrangement did not work out. By November, Greason and two other founders, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson, had left the company to found Agile Aerospace.

Greason, DeLong, Jackson and Doug Jones founded the company in 1999 after being laid off from Rotary Rocket.

In May 2016, XCOR laid off about 25 employees — roughly half of its workforce — and suspended work on the Lynx. The company has since refocused its energies on its rocket engine work.

XCOR had been working on an upper stage for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.

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Jay Gibson Out at XCOR, In With Trump Administration

John (Jay) Gibson

Jay Gibson’s two-year tenure as president and CEO of XCOR appears to be at an end.

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Gibson to be deputy chief management officer of the Department of Defense.

The announcement describes Gibson as “most recently” having been XCOR’s president and CEO. However, a source says he is still at the company.

The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

XCOR hired Gibson in March 2015 to replace founder Jeff Greason. The objective was for Gibson to focus on the business side while Greason focused on completing construction on the Lynx suborbital space plane.

That arrangement did not work out. By November, Greason and two other founders, Dan DeLong and Aleta Jackson, had left the company to found Agile Aerospace.

In May 2016, XCOR laid off about 25 employees — roughly half of its workforce — and suspended work on the Lynx. The company has since refocused its energies on its rocket engine work.

UPDATE: XCOR board member Michael Blum issued the following written statement:

“Jay Gibson is still at XCOR but will be leaving shortly for a tremendous opportunity to serve his country in a very senior role at DoD. He has been a great CEO whose leadership and experience has guided XCOR through ups and downs.”

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XCOR Layoffs Update

Chine panels being fitted to the side of the Lynx. (Credit: XCOR)
Chine panels being fitted to the side of the Lynx. (Credit: XCOR)

From what I’m hearing, the layoffs are part of a retrenchment to focus on projects that are bringing in revenue, such as the upper stage engine XCOR is developing for ULA. It appears that many people working on the Lynx suborbital space plane were laid off.

The company’s burn rate — what it was spending every month — was just too high, especially as it is maintaining facilities in Mojave, Calif., and Midland, Texas. It’s also been a while since XCOR has made any announcements about new fundraising rounds.

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XCOR Announces New Board Members and Advisors

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason
Jeff Greason

MIDLAND, Texas, March 30, 2016 (XCOR PR) – The board of directors at XCOR Aerospace is seeing new additions, and with immediate effect the board welcomes 3 new members: Charles Thomas (Tom) Burbage, Michael Gass and Arthur Bozlee.

Former board members Jeff Greason, Stephen Flemming and Michiel Mol gave up their board seats to allow for these new members. Michiel Mol, XCOR’s biggest shareholder, will remain actively involved in the company’s daily operations.

All new members have prominent previous experience in the air and space industry.

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Departed XCOR Founder Establishes Consulting Group

agile_aero_logoXCOR Founder Jeff Greason, who departed the company this week, has established an aerospace consulting operation called Agile Aero. The group has a website that was created on Nov. 17 for which Greason is listed as the registrant. The following description is on the website:

Agile Aero, Inc. is a group of aviation and aerospace professionals with expertise in many aspects of advanced aerospace vehicle design, construction, and operations; rocket propulsion; and the regulatory environment for these activities.

We provide consulting services in these areas, but our focus is on a larger goal. We have seen in our careers many advanced aerospace projects falter because of the long development cycle for custom aerospace vehicles. In recent years, there have been breakthroughs in rapid development and prototyping of rocket engines, of satellites, and of many subsystems for advanced vehicles. But the integrated vehicles are still developed with older, slower methods. Agile Aero intends to bring modern rapid prototyping to complete vehicles, for space launch, for hypersonic air vehicles, and for innovative aircraft.

CSF Adds New Member Companies

CSF_logo2WASHINGTON, D.C. (CSF PR) — The Commercial Spaceflight Federation welcomed several new member companies at its Executive Board meeting this week, expanding its membership to more than 60 companies.

Spaceport Camden of Camden County, Georgia joined CSF as an Executive Member. Steve Howard, Spaceport Camden project leader, will represent his organization on the CSF Board of Directors. “CSF’s mission strategically aligns with Camden’s goals, and we are pleased to join other industry leaders as part of this organization,” Howard said.

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Gibson Excited About XCOR Challenge; Greason Happy in New Role

John (Jay) Gibson
John (Jay) Gibson

A bit more on the management changes that XCOR announced earlier this week.

Jay Gibson has taken over as CEO and President. The CEO position was formerly held by company founder Jeff Greason, who has moved over the chief technology officer (CTO) role.

The job of president was formerly held by Andrew Nelson. XCOR has no announcement about Nelson’s status.

Gibson says he moved on from his position at Beechcraft  Corp. because he was looking for something exciting to do.

“I’ve reached a point where I want to get involved in something that’s exciting,” he said. Gibson also wanted to get into a field still early in the development curve, where opportunities for growth abound. Commercial space fits that. And finally he wanted a company trying to do something unique. “When I became more versant in what XCOR does, and its driving towards a very commercial product, it was an easy decision.”

“Jay has the credibility and experience to expand the frontiers that we have, and the businesses we have,” Greason said.

Greason professes to be happy with his new role, which allows him to focus on technology and not CEO responsibilities such as fundraising and trying to figure out how to put more bathrooms in a World War II-era hangar in compliance with 21th century building codes.

Leaving his CEO and president position to move into a CTO role, Greason said he can now focus on advanced projects and next-generation developments — innovations that motivated his co-founding of XCOR in 1999.

“As the company has grown, it’s become a bigger and bigger job to run it,” Greason said. “And I can’t do both the advanced engineering and leadership, so now I can let Jay focus on the bigger picture, and I can focus on the things that I love to do.”

Greason said that advanced technology, the vision that he has for XCOR, the larger picture of the aerospace industry’s future and the regulatory and policy framework for the industry are his passions.

“It’s what wakes me up in the morning,” Greason said.

XCOR Still Heading for Texas — Eventually

Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry's Office)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry flanked by XCOR officials in front of a full-scale mockup of the Lynx space plane in Midland. (Credit: Gov. Rick Perry’s Office)

Nearly three years after signing an agreement to move its headquarters to Midland, XCOR Aerospace is still in Mojave. But, the company’s executives are saying XCOR is still moving to West Texas.

XCOR Aerospace’s new CEO and President Jay Gibson and new Chief Technology Officer Jeff Greason reaffirmed that the Mojave, California-based private space company is still committed to making Midland its new home….

Gibson said that, when XCOR first announced in 2012 its partnership with local entities, a long-term vision was established that Midland was going to be a big part of XCOR’s identity.

“To be honest, that (vision) hasn’t changed,” Gibson said. “My role is just one of evolution to solidify that and get us to where Midland continues to be a significant part of our plans.”

Before joining XCOR, Gibson held high-level positions at Beechcraft Corp., the U.S. Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was vice president of the Special Missions Group and vice president and CFO of the defense unit at Beechcraft Corp., and assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force and deputy under the secretary of defense.

Gibson is also familiar with West Texas, having lived in Abilene for 11 years.

XCOR has suffered major delays in assembling the first Lynx rocket plane, which it originally hoped to have in flight tests by the end of 2012. The company plans to begin flight tests in Mojave before moving to Midland. It’s not clear when flight tests will begin.

XCOR Acquires Space Expedition Corporation

XCOR_SXC_logoMOJAVE, CA, June 30, 2014 (XCOR PR) — XCOR Aerospace announced today that it has closed the acquisition of all operational subsidiaries of Space Expedition Corporation, the previously independent Dutch company also known as SXC. SXC served as XCOR’s general sales agent for XCOR® Lynx® flight sales and as their lead wet lease customer. The new sales entity, XCOR Space Expeditions, will continue to focus on sales, commercial partnerships and participant (customer) training on a global level, and will serve as an open sales channel available for all future XCOR Lynx wet lease clients.

The acquisition signals XCOR’s commitment to being “the most active space flight company in the world” through a marked increase in integrated sales activities and multiple wet lease operations. As the most active spaceflight company in the world, XCOR is poised to become the company which delivers the most value for the price. With its high frequency of flights, XCOR will learn the most the quickest in the emerging commercial spaceflight industry and more customers will benefit from Lynx’s incredible in-the-cockpit experience.

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