Lay-offs at Bigelow

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The competition cools down? Bigelow Aerospace has laid off somewhere between 30 and 50 employees out of approximately 150 total employees.

In a Jan. 6 statement provided to SpaceNews, Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow said that the company determined that many areas of the company were “overstaffed” and decided to lay off employees to reduce the company’s expenses. “In December of 2015, we analyzed the amount of staff that we employed throughout all of our departments at Bigelow Aerospace, and discovered that numerous departments were overstaffed,” Bigelow said in the statement. “Regrettably, we had to make the choice that, beginning with the New Year, we need to follow standard business protocols, which sensibly requires an attempt to achieve balance in how much staff is necessary.”

The lay-offs do not necessarily indicate the company is failing, only that it is adjusting its payroll to the specific conditions of the moment. They have completed construction of their inflatable module for ISS and now only await its launch. Time to save money until they win their next contract.


  • mkent

    “The lay-offs do not necessarily indicate the company is failing…”

    But they do suggest that they are not moving full-speed ahead on a private space station.

    We’re only two years away from manned commercial crew flights. Now would be the time to be working the design hot-and-heavy. That they’re not suggests commercial crew is not the pacing item for a private Bigelow space station.

  • Tom Billings

    mkent said:

    “We’re only two years away from manned commercial crew flights. Now would be the time to be working the design hot-and-heavy. That they’re not suggests commercial crew is not the pacing item for a private Bigelow space station.”

    Indeed, while they were stated to be the pacing item, in 2010, and a few years after that, a problem of customer schedules may have been created by the funding delays afflicting commercial crew. The MOUs signed some years ago may now be undercut by funding problems inside the customers’ legislatures. As always, delay a project, and the money tends to find other uses.

    I would not be surprised if this situation were a prime objective of some members of the SLS/Orion coalition. If Bigelow pancakes due to delay upon delay, first from commercial crew and then from customer finance problems, and then, ….. Well, then the traditional center and contractor developers will have lots less competition from outside the Cost+Contractor Club.

  • wodun

    Two years, plus the 16 they have been around now, without being able to sell their core product to generate revenue is a long time to be subsidized by Bigelow and/or his investors. I am sure most of the design work is already done and if not, they kept enough people to work on it.

    I am curious how far along they are in building a product, if they are bending fabric so to speak, and how long it takes them to build one of their habs. It took them around two years to build the BEAM, which is probably much simpler than what they want to sell.

    To me, it just looks like they are treading water. Hopefully, Bigelow has deep enough pockets to keep them afloat until the market conditions are right. Whether or not customers will appear when the rides show up, who knows? But there is a confluence of maturing and developing technologies taking place. In another five or ten years, there could be other companies entering the game or innovations from current ones that enable Bigelow’s business plan to succeed.

    Certainly a partially reusable F9 could affect things as well as NASA’s desire to ditch the ISS as soon as possible. Maybe Bigelow wont even be in the business of managing their creations but selling them to other operators.

  • Tom Billings

    “Maybe Bigelow wont even be in the business of managing their creations but selling them to other operators.”

    Other US operators, under ITAR, with wet lease agreements for servicing foreign operations on the space station built here.

    That brings up an interesting question about the near future competitors and successors to Bigelow, those being the people like Tethers Unlimited, who want to build things on orbit far bigger than anything we can build here and ship up.
    It isn’t built here, but built using US tech, by a US company. Is it covered by ITAR?

    Take the question a bit further. If it’s a foreign design, but still built by a SpiderFab, is it under ITAR? Another step, …if it’s a foreign company using SpideFab tech, is the tech licensed under ITAR? How about after the patent runs out? Is the sale of SpiderFab-like material inputs to a foreign orbital manufacturer under ITAR? Is the launching of those inputs on a US vehicle under ITAR?

    Just how far does a system have to be from being made or designed in the US before Planetary Resources or DSI can legally supply them with water, or metals from asteroids? Or will they have to pass each and every sale through ITAR scrutiny? That would be an easy way to do what ITAR did to the US satellite industry, but in the far larger market of In Situ Space Resources.

    Operations on orbit and outside the Earth/Moon gravity well, for US companies will need legal clarification, again, and probably within 5 years, or investors will again hold back.

  • PeterF

    Perhaps they are just using the semi-hiatus of waiting for customers as the public reason to lay off otherwise qualified and productive employees who just don’t fit in with the team they want to build. These layoffs leave them with a team of around 100. That just happens to be the magic number that makes a colony self-sufficient. (or the most efficient tribe size if you prefer). More and you get politics, less and you get division of labor problems.

    Regardless of their post layoff team size, every business needs to let go of the people that just don’t fit in or drag of personnel problems becomes to great.

    Or I could just be talking out of my butt and Bigelow is actually circling the drain…

  • Wodun

    The ITAR implications are good points to bring up. I don’t enough about it and law is one of those areas where the text doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. I am sure, that with enough lobbying, ITAR restrictions could be dealt with and that is one of the depressing things about or system of government and running a business at this level of complexity or operational environment.

  • Edward


    I doubt that they are circling the drain, but their revenue should dramatically increase once customers can get to their space habitats. They have had fluctuations in the number of employees for the five years, or so, that I have been paying attention to them. Most likely, the reduction in force means that they are postponing some innovations and developments until revenues increase and are now concentrating on their first space hab(s). Manufacturing their first commercial habitat may have slowed down a bit.

    It could be a year or so after the first commercial flight to the ISS before there is an available spacecraft to get people to a Bigelow habitat, and who knows how long after that before they can fly paying customers. Commercial space’s schedule and availability have to be seriously considered in the planning and use of other space stations. If a third “taxi” company is still developing its manned spacecraft (e.g. Sierra Nevada), they may do well from Bigelow business, as Boeing and SpaceX are bound by contract and will place ISS service as higher priority over Bigelow.

    Although Bigelow may sell his habitats, he may also lease or rent them. He is in the real estate business, specifically hotels, so renting space is something that he already knows.

    The website specifies a price for a two-month use: $25 million. It does not suggest a price for sale. However, this suggests that Bigelow may want 6 commercial crew flights per year per habitat. Bigelow could be a more lucrative customer than NASA’s ISS commercial crew contract.

    Here is a projection for a 20-year useful life, with a proposed layout of the interior. Including this projected lifespan may suggest an intention of future sales, rather than leases. I also noticed that there are already four ground stations for communications with the habitat(s), so they seem to be preparing for the not-so-distant future.

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