This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
Some people see the proliferation of startups developing rocket engines as a sign of the space industry’s vibrancy. Jeff Greason calls it “f—ing insane.”
“It’s a sign of the immaturity of the industry,” Greason, former XCOR Aerospace co-founder and chief executive, said at the Space Access 2019 conference in Fremont, California, last month.
In every other transportation industry, vehicles adopt common engines because engine development is labor-intensive, time-consuming and requires a lot of specialized expertise, said Greason, who leads Agile Aero, a company focused on rapid prototyping for aerospace vehicles. “If you don’t divide that among many units of production, you’re not competitive.”
Despite that warning, launch vehicle startups remain focused on unique engine designs. At last count, there were 129 rocket startups, Rich Pournelle, NanoRacks senior vice president for business development, said at the April conference.
How many will survive? Eric Salwan, Firefly Aerospace commercial business development director, suggested the market could support three, four or five.
Because it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the progress of the small launch vehicle startups, Pournelle shared his own criteria. Has the company fired its rocket engine in flight configuration ...