A Closer Look at Which Space Companies U.S. VC’s are Investing in

Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s new publication, “Economic Development of Low Earth Orbit,” consists of a series of papers that examines a number of important policy questions that will be of rising importance as NASA transitions human spaceflight in LEO to the private sector.

One of the papers, “Venture Capital Activity in the Low-Earth Orbit Sector,”
has detailed information on what U.S. venture capitalists have invested in. Key excerpts from the paper follow.
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XCOR Signs MOU With Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport, Orbital Access

Lynx nose structure. (Credit: XCOR)
Lynx nose structure. (Credit: XCOR)

FARNBOROUGH, UK, July 12, 2016 (XCOR PR) – US manned space launch vehicle designer XCOR Aerospace has signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with spaceplane design and operating company Orbital Access Limited and Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport. This partnership is supported by Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government’s economic development agency.

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Entrepreneurial Lingo Lesson: The Pivot

twist_chubby1_disrupt copy
First in an irregular series on entrepreneurial buzz words

Come on let’s pivot again,
Like we did last quarter!
Yeaaah, let’s pivot again,
Like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
ROI was really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s pivot again,
Pivotin’ time is here!

Heeee, and round and round til IPO we go!
Oh, baby, make those investors love us so!

Let’s pivot again,
Like we did last quarter!
Yeaaah, let’s pivot again,
Like we did last year!

There comes a time in the existence of many startups when there an urgent need to change direction. You set up the company to pursue a goal, but for one reason or several — a lack of a market, shortage of investment, regulatory hurdles, a flawed concept — you have to direct all that talent, technology and enthusiasm toward a new objective that will keep the company in operation.

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Readers on Lynx: It’s Dead, Jim

Lynx_suspended_pollParabolic Arc readers are not real optimistic about the future of the Lynx, the suborbital space plane that XCOR suspended work on recently when it laid off most of the staff working on it.

Sixty-nine percent of voters believe that Lynx is as dead as a door nail despite XCOR’s pledge to revive work on the program at a future date. Only 13 percent of voters believe Lynx will fly at some point in the future.

The remaining 18 percent of voters just didn’t care, viewing suborbital space travel as being about a dozen years past its prime.

We’ve got a new poll up on the site asking whether you would like to go to Mars on one of the human missions Elon Musk is planning to launch beginning in 2024.

As I’ve said before: vote early, vote often. Just vote, dammit! Vote! And remember, no wagering.

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NSRC Day 2 Summary

SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)
SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser ETA. (Credit: SNC)

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.

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John Batchelor Show Appearance This Evening

The John Batchelor Show
The John Batchelor Show

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 Releases Statement About Layoffs

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

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.

 

 

XCOR Layoffs Primarily Impacted Lynx Team

Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)
Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)

An update on the XCOR layoffs….

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-Telegram reported 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.

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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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.

Stu Witt Has Not Joined XCOR’s Advisory Board

Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)

Midland TX, April 4, 2016 – An error has occurred in the previous press release. In contrary to that statement Stu Witt has not joined XCOR’s Advisory Board.

John H. (Jay) Gibson II, CEO of XCOR Aerospace: “Stu Witt has been a good friend to the space industry and XCOR for many years via his leadership role at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. As Stu has transitioned into his next career, we have remained in touch, however, at no point have we gone any further to include Stu taking on an official position within our Advisory Board as announced, and we regret our previous press release wrongfully stated otherwise.”

Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

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.

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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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XCOR Partners With Clothing Supplier Blåkläder

Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)
Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)

SVENLJUNGA, Sweden, March 10, 2016 (Blåkläder PR) — Swedish based Blåkläder, widely respected as one of the world’s best producers of quality work clothes, is accustomed to finding its customers at high altitudes and in hazardous work conditions, but the company has been limited to providing clothing for earth-bound humans. This is all set to change with the announcement of an exciting new partnership with American space travel pioneer XCOR Aerospace.

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Video Tour of XCOR

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