WASHINGTON — The White House has nominated the president and chief executive of suborbital spaceplane and engine developer XCOR Aerospace to a top position in the Defense Department.

In a list of nominations released by the administration late June 16, the White House announced it was nominating John H. “Jay” Gibson II to the position of Deputy Chief Management Officer within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The nomination requires confirmation by the Senate.

Deputy Chief Management Officer is a position at the Under Secretary of Defense level, established by Congress a decade ago. The office is responsible for management of business systems within the Defense Department with a goal to “better synchronize, integrate, and coordinate” those efforts, according to the office’s mission and vision statements.

Gibson had been president and chief executive of Midland, Texas-based XCOR Aerospace since March 2015, succeeding co-founder Jeff Greason, who became chief technology officer of the company. He came to XCOR from Beechcraft, where he worked for several years in executive positions in its government and defense business.

Gibson previously worked at the Pentagon during the administration of George W. Bush, serving as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for management reform and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for financial management, a position equivalent to chief financial officer.

Jay Gibson
Jay Gibson, president and CEO of XCOR Aerospace. Credit: XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace has gone through significant changes during Gibson’s tenure leading the company. In November 2015, Greason and two other co-founders of the company, Dan DeLong and the late Aleta Jackson, left XCOR and founded Agile Aero, a company developing modern rapid design and prototyping techniques for aircraft and launch systems.

In May 2016, the company announced it was focusing the company’s resources on an engine program backed by United Launch Alliance for potential use on the upper stage of its next-generation Vulcan launch vehicle. As a result, XCOR said it was halting work on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane, a two-person commercial vehicle that was the company’s best-known project, laying off a number of employees in the process.

The company has said little about Lynx in the year since it decided to stop work on the project. Marco Martinez-Venturi, head of astronaut relations at the company, said in March that continued development of the prototype Lynx Mark 1 vehicle, and a test flight program, were dependent on funding.

“Although we have advanced the program with much of our recent efforts, completion of the prototype is funding dependent,” he said in response to questions about the status of Lynx development. “The start of the test flight program, like the vehicle completion, is dependent on funding.”

An XCOR spokesperson said June 18 that the company has not named a successor to Gibson, who is expected to remain at the company through the end of the month.

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...