The second day of the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference took place in Colorado on Friday. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I have compiled highlights via Twitter posts. (You can follow along with hashtag #nsrc2016.)
Below is a summary of updates that cover Sierra Nevada Corporation, Cecil Airport, Spaceport Colorado, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, World View Enterprises, NASA Flight Opportunities Program.
There was a presentation by Charles Walker, who was the first person to perform commercial experiments in space as a payload specialist on three space shuttle missions.
A separate panel discussion on human-tended space research reached the unsurprising consensus that government should lift its ban on sending scientists into space with their experiments.
I will be on The John Batchelor Show this evening (Wednesday) from 9:30 to 945 p.m. EDT (6:30-6:45 PM PDT). I’ll be discussing XCOR’s layoffs and the company’s future with John and David Livingston of The Space Show as part of the show’s weekly Hotel Mars segment.
If you miss the show tonight, it will be archived online on The Space Show website by Friday. I will provide an update when the segment goes live.
XCOR ANNOUNCES STRONGER STRATEGIC FOCUS ON LH2 PROGRAM
Midland, May 31, 2016
Following recent breakthroughs in the effort of developing safer, cost-effective, sustainable, reliable and instantly reusable rocket engines for XCOR’s Lynx and other launchers, XCOR Aerospace announced earlier today that it has decided to focus the majority of its resources on the final development of the revolutionary liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (LH2) program. This innovative propulsion technology has applications to upper stage liquid hydrogen engines suitable for the Atlas V, Delta IV, and the planned NASA Space Launch System (SLS) and further underscores the partnership between XCOR and ULA, USA’s premier launch services provider that was announced March 9 this year.
“Based on the immediate engine opportunities presented to us, we decided we needed to fully focus on the LH2 program for the forthcoming period”, said Jay Gibson, President and CEO of XCOR Aerospace. .“Given that we remain a small-scale company, we are planning to place more emphasis on fine-tuning the hydrogen engine program to achieve an optimal closed loop system for cryogenic rocket engines. We are convinced that this effort will ensure that XCOR is better positioned to finish the Lynx Project in a more efficient, reliable and safer manner. Instantly Reusable Launch Vehicles will make the edge of space accessible for everyone and our efforts with ULA on the LH2 propulsion systems will do the same for deep space.”
XCOR will continue to keep working from both the Mojave and Midland locations.
Editor’s Note: XCOR just laid off about two dozen people. It is customary in these kinds of statements to acknowledge the cuts, express regret that they were required, and thank the departing employees for their service.
XCOR’s problem is — and has always been — funding. There wasn’t enough of it to keep the Lynx staff intact, which is why most of them were laid off.
There are enough people left with Lynx knowledge to restart the program at a future time. However, XCOR would need to raise money to do so, and then hire new engineers and get them up to speed on an unique vehicle. From that perspective, XCOR won’t really be in a better position as a result of this decision.
The layoffs primarily affected the team working on the Lynx suborbital space plane. Some employees involved in the program remain. However, work on building the spacecraft has been suspended for the time being.
Engineers working on XCOR’s rocket engines have been retained. Their main work will involve an engine for United Launch Alliance’s ACES upper stage. Some work will continue on Lynx’s engine and control thrusters.
Sources are indicating that XCOR laid off about 25 employees on Friday, which they say was just under half of the company. The exact head count before the staff reductions is unclear. Sources say around 50; however, the Midland Reporter-Telegramreported in January that XCOR had 63 employees at the time.
Staff remain employed at XCOR’s main headquarters in Mojave, Calif., and at its hangar in Midland, Texas.
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.
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.
For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.
That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.
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.
MIDLAND, Texas, March 9, 2016 (XCOR PR) — United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation’s premier launch services provider, has awarded XCOR Aerospace with a new contract through the United States Air Force to develop an upper stage propulsion system for Vulcan, ULA’s next-generation launch system.
Video Caption: Former fighter pilot Harry van Hulten, now Director of Flight Testing for XCOR Aerospace, takes Space.com inside the hangar/factory housing the Lynx prototype, at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. With a unique automotive-style engine that can restart many times a day the sub-orbital spaceplane will fly often, giving the private spaceflight company a sharp edge over the competition. — Lynx Space Plane in Pictures: http://goo.gl/V80PEi
MOJAVE, Calif., 14 December 2015 (XCOR PR) — XCOR Director of Engineering and acting CTO Michael Valant announced today that his team has reached an important milestone in the development of the reusable 5K18 Lynx main propulsion rocket engine. His engineers were able to ‘close the loop’ of the thermodynamic system under test conditions, a key technology for the Lynx sub-orbital vehicle.
Parabolic Archers have spoken, and they have confidence in Kern County than they do in two of Mojave’s space companies.
Seventy-four percent of voters said that Mojave would get sidewalks before either XCOR or Virgin Galactic flew their vehicles above the Karman line at 100 km. Only 26 percent of voters expended the opposite result.
The majority is probably correct here. Barring any significant delays, work is expected to begin on sidewalks for downtown Mojave toward the end of 2016. It’s not clear how long it will take to complete, but the work is unlikely to stretch out very long.
Meanwhile, XCOR is still building the Lynx Mark I, which cannot get above the Karman line. And Virgin Galactic is building the second SpaceShipTwo, which might or might not be able to reach that altitude.
I’ve posted a new poll about the battling space billionaires. Vote on whether you are on Team Allen, Team Bezos, Team Branson or Team Elon,
As I always say: Vote early. Vote often. Just vote, dammit! Vote!
Video Caption: Just as many companies in rapidly evolving industries, XCOR is seeking how to be market relevant and profitable in the next stages of its lifecycle. My role and challenges reflect the evolution of the company and the focus on translating current and future market opportunities into a successful, private enterprise. Experience in the civil aviation sector brings many insights and parallels to this market evolution and its future opportunities.
MOJAVE, CA, November 23 (XCOR PR) — XCOR Aerospace announced earlier today that two of its original founders, Chief Technology Officer Jeff Greason and Chief Engineer Dan DeLong, are stepping back from their current positions. With the first Lynx closer to completion, both want to turn their attention to pursue other interests. The two stood at the cradle of the Lynx reusable launch vehicle and have been working painstakingly on the revolutionary spacecraft for the last years. Greason will maintain his position on the company’s Board of Directors.
XCOR CEO Jay Gibson: ‘Both Jeff and Dan are true pioneers in our business. It’s their vision and their perseverance that helped us getting to where we stand now. We owe both men a lot of gratitude for all the time, energy and groundbreaking ideas they have been contributing to our company and the industry and of course we look forward to possibly working together in the future. Lynx is now in the good hands of XCOR’s highly capable and talented Technical, Engineering and program teams. 2016 Will be an exciting year in which we’re about to reach some truly significant milestones. Lynx will be the world’s first Instantly Reusable Launch Vehicle (I-RLV) and over 350 clients are as eager as we are to undertake the first trip into space. Next to that we will keep investing in our own facilities in both Mojave and Midland, where LYNX’s orbital successor will be one of the strategic focus points.’
Editor’s Note: A third founder, Aleta Jackson, has also left XCOR. She’s not speaking about it on the record at the moment.