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Vector files for bankruptcy

Capitalism in space: On December 13 the smallsat rocket company Vector officially filed for bankruptcy, a precursor to having its assets sold off.

The company filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, the state where the company was incorporated.

…Vector had been one of the leading companies in the small launch vehicle market until August, when the company said that a “significant change in financing” led it to pause operations and lay off nearly all of its more than 150 employees. Jim Cantrell, Vector’s chief executive, also left the company at the time. That announcement came just two days after the company won an Air Force launch contract.

According to industry sources familiar with the company, the August layoffs were triggered when one of the company’s major investors, venture fund Sequoia, withdrew its support for the company because of concerns about how the company was managed. That came as Vector was working on a new funding round, and Sequoia’s decision had a domino effect, causing other investors to back out. Sequoia didn’t respond to a request for comment in August about any role it played in Vector’s problems.

The company is currently being funded through “debtor in possession” financing from Lockheed Martin, according to a resolution by Vector’s board of directors included in the filing. Under a Nov. 20 agreement, Lockheed provided Vector with a $500,000 secured loan and proposed purchasing Vector’s assets associated with a satellite program called GalacticSky for no more than $2.5 million.

While companies sometimes recover from this situation, in this case Vector looks quite dead, for good. A real tragedy, but part of the reality of capitalism. The competition fuels innovation and success, but carries great risk and the real possibility of failure.

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  • Questioner

    Mr. Z .: I am sorry for that company. Can’t you try to find out, using your good contacts, what was the exact technical cause (or maybe even a conceptional design failure ) for Vector’s failure as a company?

  • Questioner: Read the link. They state the actual reason, there in plain black and white. It wasn’t technical, a major backer pulled out.

  • Questioner

    Mr. Z .:

    The article does not give a satisfactory answer. According to the article, it is clear that the main sponsor has lost confidence in the performance of the management. This in turn can indicate a deeper reason. I remember reading in an older article that the company had difficulty building the structure of the missile, especially its tanks, so lightly that it was possible to orbit with the intended payload. I think that could be the real cause. Technically, Vector was unable to build a rocket powerful enough to orbit, possibly due to the low specific impulse of its pressure-fed engines (no turbopumps) and the relatively high masses of the propellant tanks.

  • Questioner

    In addition to my last comment to the subject:

    I believe that Vector, like Virgin Galactic, made a serious failure, when choosing the rocket propulsion system’s basic concept. At Vector it was the choice of the 2-stage pressure-fed liquid rocket engine based launcher concept and at VG the choice of the hybrid rocket engine concept. Much has been written about the latter case, but not yet about the problems of Vector’s decision.

    Dispensing with turbopumps to deliver the propellants at Vector’s rocket may lead to a technically simpler propulsion system, but in any case results in massive performance losses, because due to the pressured-fed injection of the propellant into the combustion chamber the combustion pressure must be low (and therefore the specific impulse) and the other because of the high tank pressure required (about an order of magnitude higher than with turbopumps) the tank weight is quite large.

    I believe that Vector’s chief designer has believed to be able to save weight on the tanks’ pressurization systems by means of an “intelligent” design (choice of a self-pressurizing fuel for example, which, however, btw has only a low density). Maybe this calculation didn’t work out and they ended up in a technical dead end. The inherent performance disadvantages of a pressure-fed rocket can be partially compensated for by adding a third rocket stage in order to achieve at the end the orbit. I have always wondered why Vector’s chief designer has been thought that it could manage this task by means of two rocket stages. Microcosm, which also has chosen a pressure-fed design uses three rocket stages instead:

    If you fund such a development project yourself or from ongoing revenue, you may still be able to try to make fundamental design changes in order to rescue the project, but not, if you have this type of financing and main sponsor has lost his trust.

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