Gibson: Cancellation of ULA Contract Led to Recent XCOR Layoffs

John (Jay) Gibson

Former XCOR CEO Jay Gibson told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that the cancellation of an engine contract by United Launch Alliance led the struggling Mojave-based company to lay off its remaining employees last month.

“We were a subcontractor, and in the days of continuing resolutions we felt like we had a commitment from our prime” for funding that he said would last a year or more. “With less than 30 days notice, we were told that funding was terminated.”
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Sierra Nevada Selects ULA to Launch First 2 Dream Chasers

Dream Chaser cargo ship docking with International Space Station. (Credit: SNC)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., July 19, 2017 (SNC PR)) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) commercially developed Atlas V rocket to launch the first two missions of its Dream Chaser cargo system in support of NASA’s Cargo Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract.
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Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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XCOR Lost ULA Engine Contract

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Despite laying off its 21 remaining employees, XCOR Aerospace isn’t dead yet. But, it’s not in real good shape, either.

It turns out that a major blow to the company was the loss of a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop an upper stage for the Vulcan booster.

The primary impetus for the layoffs, Acting CEO and XCOR Board member Michael Blum told me, is the loss of a contract for engine development that the company had with United Launch Alliance. “The proceeds should have been enough to fund the prototype of Lynx [the company’s planned spacecraft], but ULA decided they’re not going to continue funding the contract. So we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation where we need to raise money or find joint developments to continue.” ULA declined to comment.
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SpaceX on a Rapid Launch Cadence for 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX’s successful launch of the Intelsat 35e communications satellite on Wednesday was the company’s third launch in 12 days and its 10th successful launch of 2017, the most the company has ever launched during any calendar year.

Just past the mid-point of the year, SpaceX has launched more times than any other company or nation in 2017. The company’s flights account for just under short of one-quarter of the 44 launch attempts this year.

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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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ULA’s USAF Launch Contract Worth $191 Million

An United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the WorldView-4 spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USAF PR) — The Air Force announced today the award of the third competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch service after more than a decade of sole-sourced contracts. United Launch Alliance was awarded a contract for Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) Launch Service. This is a firm-fixed price, standalone contract with a value of $191,141,581.

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ULA Wins USAF Launch Contract

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying EchoStar XIX satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:13 p.m. ET. (Credit: United Launch Alliance/Lockheed Martin)

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (ULA PR) – The United States Air Force announced today that United Launch Alliance (ULA) was awarded a contract to launch the Space Test Program-3 (STP-3) mission. This contract resulted from a competitive award under the Air Force’s Phase 1A procurement strategy.

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Mid-Year Launch Report: U.S. (& SpaceX) in the Lead

Screenshot of SpaceX Falcon 9 Bulgaria 1 satellite launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

We are now halfway through 2017, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the year in orbital launches.

ORBITAL LAUNCHES THROUGH JUNE 2017
NATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
United States130013
Russia8008
China6017
Europe5005
India4004
Japan3104
New Zealand0101
TOTAL392142

A total of 42 launches have been conducted thus far, with 39 successes, two failures and one partial failure. The two failures were inaugural flight tests of new boosters.

American companies have launched 13 times. Nine of those flights have been conducted by SpaceX, giving the company more launches than anyone else thus far. United Launch Alliance successfully three three Atlas V boosters and one Delta IV rocket.

Russia has conducted eight launches. Included in the total are two Russian Soyuz flights conducted from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

China is close behind with seven launches. Six flights were successful, but a Long March 3B booster suffered a partial failure earlier this month that left a spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

LAUNCHES BY VEHICLE THROUGH JUNE 2017
LAUNCH VEHICLENATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
 Falcon 9United States9009
 Soyuz 2Russia6006
 Ariane 5 Europe4004
 Atlas VUnited States 300 3
 H-IIAJapan3003
 Long March 3BChina2013
 PSLVIndia2002
 Delta IV United States1 001
 GSLV Mk II India 1 001
 GSLV Mk III India 1 001
KT-2 China 1 001
 Kuaizhou 1 China 1 001
 Long March 2D China 1 001
 Long March 7 China 1 001
 Proton Russia 1 001
 Soyuz-2.1vRussia 1 001
 VegaEurope 1001
 Electron New Zealand0101
 S-520-4 Japan010 1
TOTAL392142

Europe follows with five successful launches, including four using the Ariane 5 booster and one using the Vega launcher.

India launched four times, with the highlight being the successful first orbital test of the new GSLV Mk. III booster. The launch vehicle — the nation’s most powerful to date — had been previously tested during a suborbital flight without an upper stage.

Japan also launched four times with three successes. The maiden flight test of Japan’s new SS-520-4 nanosat launcher failed in January, destroying some CubeSats.

New Zealand made the orbital launch list for the first time this year. The maiden flight test of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed to orbit an inert mass. Rocket Lab is a U.S.-New Zealand company.

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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NanoRacks and NASA Sign NextSTEP Contract for Commercial Habitat Concept Study

Concept image representing the feasibility study that NanoRacks will conduct related to converting a launch vehicle’s upper stage into a habitable volume. (Credit: NanoRacks)

HOUSTON (NanoRacks PR) — This week marks an important milestone for NanoRacks. NanoRacks and NASA have signed the contract for Ixion, a commercial habitat concept study first announced last summer.

The contract will focus on repurposing spent launch vehicle upper stages. NanoRacks is working with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services and Space Systems Loral who will provide robotic outfitting capabilities.

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SpaceX Falcon 9 to Launch X-37B Space Plane

X-37B after landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base on June 16, 2012. (Credit: Boeing/USAF)

Reuters reports that SpaceX will launch the U.S. Air Force’s  X-37B space plane in August.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson made the announcement during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the news service reports.

Four previous X-37B missions have been launched aboard ULA’s Atlas V boosters.

The U.S. Air Force has two X-37B spacecraft, which are used to test new technologies on orbit. One vehicle landed in Florida on May 7 after spending a record 718 days in space.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Completes CDR on AR1 Engine

AR-1 engine (Credit: Aerojet Rockettdyne)

LOS ANGELES, May 08, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), successfully completed its Critical Design Review (CDR) for AR1, a 500,000 lbf thrust-class, liquid-fueled rocket engine.

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California Considers Tax on Launches Within the State

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the WorldView-4 spacecraft lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

California’s Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comment on a proposed new tax that would fall upon ULA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies launching spacecraft from within the state.

The levy would apply to companies “that generates more than 50 percent of its gross receipts from the provision of space transportation activity for compensation in a taxable year,” the proposal states. Space is defined as 62 statute miles (100 km) or more above Earth.
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Tiny Probes Hold Big Promise for Future NASA Missions

This picture shows the entry probe and the metal outer shell. The metal shell allows the probe to be connected with the supply ship and also facilitates the probe to be released during break-up of the supply spacecraft during reentry. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Sometimes to find the best solution to a big problem, you have to start small.

A team of NASA engineers has been working on a new type of Thermal Protection System (TPS) for spacecraft that would improve upon the status quo.

Having seen success in the laboratory with these new materials, the next step is to test in space.

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