XCOR bankruptcy revelations

XCOR’s bankruptcy has revealed how far the company was from actually building and flying its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

In original financial filings, XCOR reported having $1,424.66 in cash.

No value was given to the Lynx MK1, a spaceplane in development that would take off and land horizontally. Between $15 million and $20 million would be required to finish the Lynx, according to documents. An estimated $25 million to $30 million was invested.

It is hard to say whether XCOR was a scam, or a good idea that simply never could get the investment capital to fly. In the end, however, it essentially turned out to be both. According the article, local government agencies in both Florida and Texas have lost millions from investments they made in the company in the hope it would produce jobs in their communities.

XCOR bankruptcy leaves behind $27.5 million in debt

Capitalism in space: XCOR’s bankruptcy has revealed that the company owed $27.5 million to creditors, the largest of which are government agencies that gave the company money in the hope its operations would bring business to their regions.

Space Florida is the largest secured credit at $3.6 million. The state-run agency’s has a “blanket security interest in personal property.” XCOR had made a deal to manufacture and operate its Lynx suborbital space plane from Florida.

XCOR estimates it spent $25 to $30 million developing the unfinished Lynx. An additional $15 to $20 million would be required to complete the vehicle, according to the documents.

Midland Development Corporation (MDC) has $10 million in unsecured claims. The funding was provided to XCOR to move from its base in Mojave, Calif., to the West Texas city, a process the company did not complete before it filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

In addition, a private spacesuit company, Orbital Outfitters, appears to have gone of business in connection with this bankruptcy.

XCOR layoffs due to loss of ULA contract

Capitalism in space: The layoffs at XCOR this week that essentially shut the company down were the due to ULA cancelling its upper stage engine contract with the company.

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.

XCOR shuts down

Capitalism in space: XCOR, the company that was going to fly tourists on the Lynx reusable suborbital plane by 2013, has laid off its last remaining employees.

Though years ago I predicted this failure accurately, I do not celebrate it. I would have much preferred to have been dead wrong, and to have seen Lynx built and flying, making money from space tourism. At the same time, I am also utterly realistic about the realities of capitalism. To have big successes you need to also have sad failures. XCOR unfortunately belongs to the latter.

XCOR layoffs, ending Lynx?

In the heat of competition: XCOR has laid off the staff working on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane.

The company has apparently decided to focus on those things that are generating revenues. Lynx was years behind schedule, unfinished with no prospect for profit, as it was only a prototype, not the spaceplane that could be used to fly tourists.

As much as I am not surprised (I have been skeptical of XCOR’s Lynx suborbital project since they announced it in 2008), I am saddened, because I really did want them to succeed.

XCOR wins Vulcan engine design contract

The competition heats up: ULA has awarded XCOR a design contract for building an upper stage rocket engine for the Vulcan rocket.

This is good news for XCOR, though there is one important caveat: A close reading of the press release at the link shows that the contract does not guarantee that ULA will use this engine in Vulcan. XCOR must deliver, and ULA must be satisfied with what they produce.

Deposed XCOR founders form new company

The competition heats up? The founders of XCOR, who only weeks ago were pushed out in a management reorganization, have teamed up again to form a new company.

Forgive me if I am as skeptical of this new company as I am of XCOR. I’ve looked at all the news articles describing this new company, and see little there that excites me. Lots of talk about new management ideas and agile production efforts, but in the end nothing that suggests anything revolutionary.

These guys had more than a decade at XCOR to produce something and essentially never did. Why should I think they will do it now, just because they are hanging a different company name on their sign?

Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to celebrate if they make something happen. I just remain exceedingly skeptical.

XCOR founders step down

In the heat of competition: Three of XCOR’s founders are leaving the company, even as it struggles to finish its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

XCOR Aerospace said in a statement that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were “stepping back” from those positions “to turn their attention to pursue other interests.” A third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, was not mentioned in the release but is also leaving the company.

I am saddened that these individuals will not be there should XCOR finally succeed in finishing Lynx and flying it. At the same time, the fact that they are leaving at this stage suggests strongly to me that Lynx is nowhere close to flying, and that the company bean-counters have realized this and have now been forced to take action.

As regular readers to BtB know, I have always been extremely skeptical of XCOR’s effort. I have always wanted them to succeed, but in casting a cold eye at their progress I have never had much confidence that they would. Today’s story sadly adds strength to my skepticism.

Next New Shepard test flight expected before December

The competition heats up: Blue Origins has revealed that the next test flight of its suborbital New Shepard capsule and launch rocket will take place before the end of 2015.

They also noted that they will not be selling any tickets for suborbital flights for at least two more years, until they are satisfied that the test flights have proven the system. This is a far cry from other suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR, who have made big promises to garner ticket sales, and have yet to deliver. Jeff Bezos’s company has instead decided to deliver first, and then sell tickets.

In the end, we shall see who wins the race to put the first tourists into space. What is certain in all this however is that Virgin Galactic has squandered the ten-year headstart it had when it started out in 2004.

In related news, Virgin Galactic says that construction of its second SpaceShipTwo ship is progressing well.

Spaceport head says Lynx to launch in early 2016

The competition heats up: The president of the spaceport in Midland, Texas, said today that XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spacecraft will complete its first test launch in the second quarter of 2016.

My readers know that I have been very skeptical of XCOR. They also know, if they have read closely, that I would be thrilled if they proved me wrong and succeeded. I think we shall find out one way or the other next year.

An update on XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft

The competition heats up: According to one XCOR official, its first Lynx suborbital spacecraft is 6 to 9 months from launch.

Peck estimated that XCOR is six to nine months away from the Lynx 1’s first flight. The main structure is complete and the wing mounts are being made. Once the craft is put together, the team in Mojave will do ground testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Peck cited the longer runway at Mojave and the ability to do extensive testing there without shutting down a commercial airport as reasons for doing the test back in California. …

As the Lynx 1 approaches completion, the team is already starting to work on components for the Lynx 2, according to Peck. Peck described the Lynx 1 as a testing vehicle, while the Lynx 2 will be the vehicle that first transports paying customers into suborbital space. The Lynx 3 will be similar to the 2 except that it will have a dorsal pod to carry experiments and microsatellites. [emphasis mine]

I know many space activists have been repeatedly annoyed at me for my continued skepticism of XCOR, but the highlighted news above, that the Lynx craft under construction is only a test vehicle, illustrates why I am skeptical. Until now XCOR has never stated publicly that this Lynx craft was only for testing. Instead, their press releases and public comments have implied that after testing it would be used for paying passengers.

Then there is this: Their last press release update about Lynx’s construction is no longer available on the web. Nor are other press releases. In my experience, legitimate companies do not put their press releases into the memory hole, they keep them available because they help generate publicity. Companies that make them vanish, however, are usually hiding something, and are also generally the companies that in the end do not accomplish what those press releases promise.

Back in 2012 XCOR promised that Lynx would begin test flights that year. They did not. Delays like this are understandable, and are not a reason by itself to be skeptical. Repeated failures to deliver promises however are reasons to be skeptical. For example, they first announced Lynx to great fanfare in 2008, saying then that they hoped to be flying in two years. I did not believe it then, and I was right.

I truly want XCOR to succeed, but I also am not willing to be a PR hack for them. They need to do it for me to believe them.

XCOR progress report in construction of Lynx

The competition heats up: In a press release today XCOR announced new progress in the assembly of its Lynx suborbital space plane.

They revealed that they have “bonded the XCOR Lynx Mark I strakes to the Lynx spacecraft fuselage.”

To be honest, my impression of the work at XCOR from the photo at the link is that of one or two guys working in their spare time in their garage on restoring a classic car. Though I wish them well, the progress seems very slow, and piecemeal. In fact, it reminds me much of Richard Branson’s many false promises at Virgin Galactic. For example, back in 2012 XCOR announced a test flight schedule for 2013. None of those flights ever happened. Then in 2014 they said they hoped to begin flight tests before the end of that year. Again, nothing happened.

At least with this most recent release they aren’t saying when they plan to fly, since from the picture it appears they are quite a long ways from doing so. It is far better to make real promises that false ones, and XCOR might have learned that lesson watching the public relations problems Richard Branson has had in recent years.

Even so, I have been consistently very skeptical of this project. In fact, back in October 2013, in describing the effort of Blue Origin in the suborbital tourism trade, I predicted the following:

That the present ship [Blue Origin’s New Shepard] is being designed for suborbital tourist flights makes it a direct competitor of Virgin Galactic and XCOR. And considering the problems that Virgin Galactic has with SpaceShipTwo [written one year before its crash], and that XCOR doesn’t have the big bucks of Bezos, Blue Origin might actually be in the lead in the race to put the first tourists in space.

It appears now that this prediction was right on the money.

XCOR sells its Lynx suborbital spaceplane

This NBC story tries very hard to help XCOR sell its Lynx suborbital space plane, but I found myself very unimpressed. To me the images suggested instead that little progress has occurred in recent months, and that the project has stalled.

I hope I am wrong, but this whole story reminded me strongly of many of Richard Branson’s efforts to sell Virgin Galactic, which have so far proven to be vastly overstated.

DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
» Read more

Great Britain’s proposed suborbital spaceport locations

The competition heats up: More information was released today describing Great Britain’s suggested spaceport locations.

These spaceports are specifically aimed at the suborbital space tourism market, for American companies like Virgin Galactic or XCOR, or for the developing British company Skylon.

It is interesting that 6 of 8 are located in Scotland, which might very well not be part of the United Kingdom after a vote on separation this fall.

Brian Binnie, the man who flew SpaceShipOne for Scaled Composites, has left that company for competitor XCOR

Brian Binnie, the man who flew SpaceShipOne for Scaled Composites, has left that company for competitor XCOR.

It might simply be the man got a promotion, but it also might be that he knows the problems SpaceShipTwo is having and sees his chances of flying there going down. His willingness to work for XCOR instead could also be looked at as a kind of endorsement of that company’s chances of success.

Excalibur Almaz has signed a deal to use Xcor’s Lynx suborbital craft to train its astronauts.

The competition heats up: Excalibur Almaz has signed a deal to use Xcor’s Lynx suborbital craft to train its astronauts.

Since Xcor has not yet flown Lynx, and Excalibur Almaz as a lot of work to do to make its Soviet-era modules flyable, I would bet that this news release is mostly public relations hype, centered as much on raising investment funds for both companies as it is about training astronauts.

The assembly of the first test vehicle of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital craft has begun.

The competition heats up: The assembly of the first test vehicle of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital craft has begun.

I will admit to great deal of skepticism about this particular space company. Somehow XCOR always manages to get a great deal of coverage in the space community press, despite what I see as lack of any actual space-related results.

I could be wrong however, and if so, I will be the first to celebrate. This article suggests they might finally start test flights by the end of this year.