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Image: Engine test
In a 2013 photo, Jeff Greason inspects XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx rocket engine while Doug Jones (at left) looks on. Greason has left XCOR and is creating a new venture called Agile Aero, while Jones is staying on with XCOR. (Credit: XCOR Aerospace)

XCOR Aerospace pioneered the rapid development of rocket propulsion systems, and now three of XCOR’s founders are starting up a new venture called Agile Aero to do something similar for advanced aerospace vehicles.

Agile Aero has surfaced just a week after XCOR announced the departure of chief technologist Jeff Greason and chief engineer Dan DeLong. Greason and DeLong are teaming up with Aleta Jackson, another co-founder and aerospace veteran who left XCOR this month.

“It’s the Three Musketeers again,” Greason told GeekWire. XCOR’s fourth co-founder, Doug Jones, is staying on as the company’s chief test engineer.

XCOR recently moved its headquarters from Mojave, Calif., to Midland, Texas, and reworked its management structure. Greason, who had served as XCOR’s CEO since its founding in 1999, said the executive shifts left him dissatisfied with his role at the company. Greason left XCOR, and DeLong and Jackson joined him in founding Agile Aero.

Lands' End photo shoot
In 2013, the co-founders of XCOR Aerospace posed for a publicity photo touting Lands’ End business wear. From left are Doug Jones, Aleta Jackson, Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong. (Credit: Lands’ End)

Greason noted that the past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in the pace of development for small satellites and rocket engines, but that “nobody has had much luck with rapid-prototyping [advanced aerospace] vehicles, except for making missile shapes.”

“We don’t know exactly how to do it yet, but we have a clear understanding of the challenge,” he said.

Agile Aero’s founders plan to come up with advanced aerospace designs that could be applied to create next-generation reusable launch vehicles as well as hypersonic planes, supersonic business jets, high-performance drones and other advanced applications, Greason said.

The designs would be prototyped for Agile Aero’s clients. Greason said he’s already fielded inquiries from potential partners, even though he’s “still working out exactly what the business plan is.”

Greason retains his status as an XCOR shareholder and board member, and said he wished the company well. “I would love it if XCOR became a customer when we have a rapid-development capability in place,” he said.

During his tenure at XCOR, Greason became a leading advocate for private-sector spaceflight. He was a co-founder of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and in 2009, he served on an independent White House panel that reviewed the nation’s agenda for human space exploration. This week, he said he was struck by “how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.”

At one point, there was talk that XCOR might start putting its Lynx suborbital rocket plane through flight tests as early as 2010. Construction of the Lynx is now under way, but the project has yet to get off the ground. To his credit, Greason has consistently played down the hype over space tourism – and his comments to GeekWire stayed true to form.

“The point of no return is when commercial space travel makes enough profit that it can fund the next generation of research and development from the current generation of technology,” Greason said. “We are not there yet.”

It may well be that Agile Aero will get Greason and the other members of the Three Rocketeers to that goal.

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