Jeff Greason (left) and Dan Delong Credit: SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — Three co-founders of suborbital vehicle developer XCOR Aerospace who recently left the company have established a new company, one that was inspired by some of the development challenges they faced at XCOR.

XCOR announced Nov. 23 that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were leaving the company. The company said in a statement that the two were leaving “to turn their attention to pursue other interests,” but offered no additional details at the time. A third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, separately indicated she was also leaving the company.

The three left XCOR to found a new company, Agile Aero. That company, which, like XCOR, is based in Midland, Texas, will be focused on addressing a problem Greason says has afflicted XCOR and other aerospace companies: the inability to rapidly develop and test vehicles, be they high-speed aircraft or launch vehicles.

“We’ve seen so many companies run into the same obstacle,” he said in an interview. “Once you get past cylindrical designs into vehicles that have lift in the atmosphere, the complexity gets to the point where the ability of people to try things rapidly, and succeed or fail fast, runs out of steam.”

“We have seen in our careers many advanced aerospace projects falter because of the long development cycle for custom aerospace vehicles,” the company states on its website. “Agile Aero intends to bring modern rapid prototyping to complete vehicles, for space launch, for hypersonic air vehicles, and for innovative aircraft.”

Greason, in the interview, said that he’s seen advances in rapid prototyping of spacecraft payloads, and XCOR has had success rapidly building and testing rocket engines. “But when it comes to vehicles, people have either found them slow to develop, or they have gone to vehicles that treat the atmosphere as a nuisance,” he said.

Agile Aero intends to first work on a technical solution to that development problem, supporting itself with some consulting work. “We don’t have the answers yet, but we have a clear grasp on the challenge,” he said. “We think if we work on that, we can solve that problem, not just for one company but for a whole industry.”

Greason has first-hand experience with that problem given the delays developing XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spaceplane. The decision to leave XCOR and found Agile Aero, he said, came after a reorganization at XCOR that took both him and DeLong out of management roles on Lynx.

“I had wanted to work on some of these challenges within XCOR, but the resources and the traction to work on that just didn’t materialize,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was contributing as much to the industry as I could by staying where I was.”

Agile Aero is an independent company, Greason said, and is free to work with anyone in the industry. He added that it’s possible his company could work with XCOR in the future.

Greason also has not cut his own ties with XCOR, remaining on the company’s board of directors. “I am still an XCOR shareholder. I want XCOR to be successful,” he said. “But I think the problem we’re trying to solve has applications beyond XCOR’s needs.”

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...