WASHINGTON — Bigelow Aerospace, a company developing commercial space station modules, has laid off an unspecified number of employees as it seeks to transition from research and development to commercial operations.

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 company did not disclose how many people were laid off. Industry sources estimated that between 30 and 50 people lost their jobs, and that the company had more than 150 employees at the time of the layoffs.

The layoffs come after a hiring spree for the company. For much of 2015, Bigelow Aerospace advertised that it was seeking to fill more than 100 positions, both at its North Las Vegas, Nevada, headquarters and a new propulsion division the company opened in the fall in Huntsville, Alabama.

As recently as December, the company’s website listed more than 30 open positions. As of Jan. 7, the website listed only four open positions, including chief operations officer.

Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow in 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow in 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bigelow, in the statement, said he decided to make the layoffs as part of a company transition. “For sixteen years, Bigelow Aerospace has functioned nearly exclusively as a research and development company,” he said. “Starting in 2016, our intent is to behave in more of a financially responsible manner seeking to generate revenues as well as maintaining financial practicality on operating expenses.”

Bigelow Aerospace is known for developing inflatable modules that launch in a compact form and expand to their full volume once in space. The company successfully demonstrated the technology on two missions, Genesis 1 and 2, launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

The company has also built, under a $17.8 million NASA contract announced in 2013, a prototype module called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that will be installed on the International Space Station. Bigelow completed work on BEAM last year, and the module will launch to the ISS on the next SpaceX cargo mission there, tentatively scheduled for February.

Testing of BEAM and other company work, including a NASA study contract awarded in 2015 to examine the use of Bigelow modules as deep space habitats, won’t be affected by the layoffs. “These layoffs will not compromise in any way our ability to execute the work and activities that we presently have ongoing,” Bigelow said in the statement.

The layoffs are not the first time Bigelow Aerospace has cut staff. In September 2011, the company laid off 40 of its 90 employees. The company cited delays in the development of commercial crew transportation vehicles needed to access its proposed space stations.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...