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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Space Access 16 Conference Detailed Agenda

Earth_from_OrbitSpace Access ’16 Conference Information
April 7th – 9th, 2016
at the Radisson Hotel Phoenix North

Updated 02/21/16

Space Access ’16 is Space Access Society’s twenty-third annual conference on the business, technology, and politics of radically cheaper access to space, this year with a strong sub-focus on Beyond Low Orbit: The Next Step Out.

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Space Access Society Update on Station Supply, Commercial Crew & SpaceX Investigation

Progress 60P on approach to ISS. (Ctedit: NASA TV)
Progress 60P on approach to ISS. (Ctedit: NASA TV)

Space Access Update #144 7/6/15
copyright 2015 by Space Access Society
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Contents This Issue:

Station Supply Update

Latest From SpaceX

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Station Supply Update

A Russian Progress cargo ship successfully docked with Station in the early hours of Sunday morning. This adds a month to International Space Station’s supply reserves, sufficient now for roughly through November.

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Latest Update on Space Access 15

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From Henry Vanderbilt:

Sunday 4/26/15 – We’ve posted our Final Pre-Conference Update for Space Access’15, with the latest near-final schedule plus Travel, Conference Style, and Speakers information, at http://space-access.org/updates/sa15info.html

The Radisson still has rooms available, at http://www.radisson.com/reservation/itineraryEntrance.do?hotelCode=USAPNIX&promotionalCode=SPA

SA’15 Online Conference Registration closes after Tuesday, so register now, at http://space-access.org/updates/sa15PreRegister.html

SA’15 At-Door Registration will open at noon on Thursday April 30th in the Radisson Phoenix North main ballroom lobby, and SA’15 sessions will commence at 1:30 pm sharp. See you there!

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=10220+n+metro+parkway+e+phoenix+az&hl=en&ll=33.57654,-112.119845&spn=0.010843,0.006888&sll=37.6,-95.665&sspn=80.595025,56.425781&hnear=10220+North+Metro+Pkwy+E,+Phoenix,+Arizona+85051&t=m&z=17

Space Access Society Update

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Space Access Update #139
  3/14/15
Copyright 2015 by Space Access Society
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In this Issue:

FY’16 Political Season Underway: Early Roundup

House Passes NASA Authorization

Commercial Crew Contracts

FAA AST “Learning Period” Extension

Our Colleagues Have Been Busy

                          Pioneering Space Summit

                          Alliance For Space Development

                          March Storm

         Space Access ’15 Conference April 30 – May 2, 2015 in Phoenix

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FY’16 Political Season Underway: Early Roundup

While we’ve been putting together our upcoming Space Access Conference, another DC space political season has been getting underway. It’s time we took a quick look at what’s going on so far. In no particular order… (more…)

Registration Open for Space Access 15

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Space Access ’15 Conference Site Set, Registration Open
April 30th – May 2nd
Radisson Hotel Phoenix North Conference Hotel

We now have a site under contract for SA’15, Space Access Society’s next annual conference on the business, technology, and politics of radically cheaper access to space.

We’ll be at the Radisson Hotel Phoenix North, 10220 N Metro Parkway E in Phoenix Arizona, with Space Access conference room rates of $99 a night plus tax, rate includes a 25% discount on the hotel full-breakfast buffet. Click on this link to reserve your room at our rate, or call the Radisson at 602 997-5900 and ask for the “Space Access Conference” rate (good for up to three days before and after our dates.)

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Space Access Society Update

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Space Access Update #138
  12/19/14
Copyright 2014 by Space Access Society
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In this Issue:

Year-End Wrapup:

Commercial Crew FY’15 Funding
Defense Engine Development
Falcon 9 Recovery Attempt

Space Access ’15 Conference Set For April 30 – May 2, 2015
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Space Access Society Update

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Space Access Update #137 Followup

12/08/14

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Commercial Crew Funding

We noted in Update #137 that NASA’s funding requirement for the final (CCtCap) phase of Commercial Crew vehicle development is likely to increase radically over the next two years, and that this could be a problem.

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Space Access Society Update #137

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Space Access Update #137
  11/24/14
Copyright 2014 by Space Access Society
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In this Issue:

         Maintaining An Even Strain

         Commercial Crew Followup

         Booster & Engine Developments

         Space Access ’15 Conference, April 2015

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Maintaining An Even Strain

Many times over the years, we’ve gotten feedback to the effect that “things are going so well for this new industry, don’t you think it’s time to declare victory and move on?”

Oddly enough, none of those times was during this last month. The spectacular loss of two different commercial space vehicles in quick succession now has some questioning the viability of the entire commercial space industry.

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Space Access Society Update

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Space Access Update #136 7/27/14
Copyright 2014 by Space Access Society

In this Issue:

– Bill Gaubatz
– Experienced Engineering Teams And US Space Launch Development Policy
– SLS Sole-Sourcing
– 2014 Space Politics: Halftime Report

  • Senate Appropriations Impasse, Other Legislation
  • Commercial Crew & Cargo at Crossroads
  • Defense Launch & Propulsion Politics

– Supporting Space Access

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Administration Opposes Senate Provisions on Commercial Crew, Europa Mission

Credit: Matt Wade
Credit: Matt Wade

In a policy statement issued today, the White House took issue with two objectives near and dear to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): crippling NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and boosting its Space Launch System (SLS).

“The Administration appreciates the Committee’s support for the Commercial Crew program, but has concerns about language that would seek to apply accounting requirements unsuitable for a firm, fixed-price acquisition, likely increasing the program’s cost and potentially delaying its schedule,” the Administration said in the statement, which covers the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015.

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Space Access Society Urges Action on Commercial Crew Provisions

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Space Access Society 6/11/14 Followup to

Space Access Society Political Action Alert 6/4/14

Space Access Society 6/5/14 Followup

There’s been some additional action in the fight over the future of NASA’s Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew programs. Florida Today and The Houston Chronicle ran stories reporting the Commercial Spaceflight Federation industry association’s view that Senator Shelby’s provision to impose cost-plus contract-type “certified cost and pricing data” on these programs could disrupt contracting and would increase overall costs.

“The language would effectively change an efficient and lean commercial program into a traditional government procurement with all of the associated overhead and cost,” said Alex Saltman, executive director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

“In addition, if this language were to become law before NASA awards the latest commercial crew contracts, NASA would likely have to restart the procurement with these new rules, pushing back the program up to a year and sending hundreds of millions of more taxpayer dollars to Russia for Soyuz rides,” Saltman added. “If the language were to go into effect after the awards, NASA could be tied up in contract renegotiations and challenges for months if not years.”

Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the CSF and four-time NASA astronaut, added “It’s just bad policy. The whole idea behind the commercial crew program is to not do a lot of the stuff that we have traditionally done. It would be nice to be a little forward leaning, and to save taxpayer money.”

The papers also asked Senator Shelby about our contention that this Senate NASA Appropriation provision is intended (among other things) to protect the massively wasteful Space Launch System project. His reply: “That’s not true. We’re looking for transparency.”

With all due respect to the senior Senator from Alabama, we disagree.

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Senate Boosts NASA’s Budget

NASA LOGOThe Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a FY 2015 budget for NASA that totals $17.9 billion. The amount $439 million above the Obama Administration’s request and $254 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. The spending plan is also in line with the $17.896 billion approved by the House.

Details on the Senate spending measure are still a bit sparse, but the Commercial Crew Program would receive $805 million, which is less than the $848 million requested by the Obama Administration but more than the House’s allocation of  $785 million.

Senators reportedly left in language inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that could drive up the cost of the Commercial Crew Program. See the Space Access Society alert for more details.

The Space Launch System would received $1.7 billion. The House has approved $1.6 billion for the heavy-lift rocket, while the Administration wants to spend $1.38 billion.

The International Space Station would received $3 billion, which is in line with what the House approved and the Administration proposed. Senators approved $5.2 billion for NASA’s Science program, a boost of more than $200 million over the Administration’s request.

Space Access ’14 Conference Cancelled

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This is a downer. My favorite space conference canceled this year, per this note from Henry Vanderbilt:

Space Access ’14 Cancelled

I very much regret to announce that, due to circumstances arising that will require a great deal of my time in coming months, this April’s Space Access conference is cancelled. We’ll be contacting those who paid for advance SA’14 registrations at SA’13 about refunds this week. (If you haven’t heard from us by this weekend, email us at space.access@mindspring.com, with the subject line SA’14 Refund.)

— Henry Vanderbilt, Space Access ’14 Conference Manager

Space Access Conference Early Registration Ends Tonight

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One week left till the conference. Our $120 advance Conference registration discount ends (along with advance registration) after midnight west coast time today, Wednesday April 3rd.  Register at

http://www.space-access.org/updates/sa13PreRegister.html

Late program additions: Ben Brockert, veteran of Masten Space and Armadillo Aerospace, will be talking about his new company Able Space, and Veronica Zabala will say a few words for NSS and the upcoming ISDC.  Full current program and other conference info is at

http://www.space-access.org/updates/sa13info.html

Watch for one final Space Access Conference info update this coming weekend, with travel information plus any last-second schedule additions.

See you there!

Henry Vanderbilt
SA’13 Conference Manager