Any entrepreneurial venture, space or otherwise, needs an exit strategy: how those who invested into the company get their money back (plus, hopefully, a healthy return on that investment). These days that means, primarily, an acquisition by a larger company, given the difficulties of going public. The emerging NewSpace field has only seen a few such deals: Northtop Grumman’s purchase of Scaled Composites in 2007, Space Adventures acquisition of Zero-G Corporation in 2008, and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s purchase of SpaceDev, which took place one year ago today.
Yesterday saw another such deal: Huntsville-based Dynetics annoucned it was acquiring Orion Propulsion, a small developer of rocket propulsion systems, for an undisclosed sum. Tim Pickens, who founded Orion in 2004, will now become “chief propulsion engineer” for Dynetics, a company that does space as part of a broader portfolio that includes information techology, automotive, and other fields. It’s also become a home for some former NASA officials: former NASA Marshall Space Flight Center director David King joined Dynetics in May as executive vice president, while Steve Cook, who managed the Ares program at Marshall, became director of space technologies at Dynetics in September.
Orion Propulsion, founded by Pickens after he returned to Alabama after working at Scaled to design the hybrid propulsion system for SpaceShipOne, has worked on a variety of government and commercial projects. This includes roll and reaction control systems for the Ares 1 to the forward propulsion system for Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer module. The latter system is designed to be a “green” system, using hydrogen and oxygen generated from water water: “burning urine”, as Pickens put it during a presentation at the 2009 ISDC in Orlando in May.