Wrapping up XCOR’s deal with Midland

Rick Perry and Lynx

Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears particularly excited to see a full-scale mockup of the XCOR Lynx suborbital spaceplane Monday in Midland, alongside XCOR chief test pilot Rick Searfoss. (credit: XCOR)

After all the news that came out from Friday through Sunday, the actual announcement of XCOR’s deal with the Midland Development Corporation (MDC) to locate its headquarters and R&D center in the West Texas city was something of an anticlimax. Most of the details of the deal were already released; during a half-hour teleconference with reporters monday afternoon, XCOR officials sometimes referred to those accounts, like one Sunday in the local newspaper, the Midland Reporter-Telegram, when asked for details about the incentives MDC is providing XCOR.

Earlier in the day, XCOr did get an endorsement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appeared at a separate news conference for local media in Midland. “We couldn’t be happier to welcome XCOR to the Lone Star State, and we couldn’t be prouder to be home to their new Research and Development center,” he said in prepared remarks, most of which focused on more general business and employment issues, as he played up how business-friendly the state is.

XCOR officials also made note of that pro-business environment as part of their reason for locating in Texas. “We do, of course, welcome the friendly regulatory and business climate in the state,” XCOR president Jeff Greason said. “There was no one factor that made the decision make sense for us. It really was the ensemble of a whole lot of positives and no serious negatives.”

But what attracted Midland to XCOR? Local officials said they were looking to diversify the economy, which leans heavily on the oil industry, and saw aviation and aerospace as a likely target to go after. But asked why specifically XCOR, given the wide array of other aerospace companies out there, they weren’t able to offer much in the way of specific rationales. “Wow. Just looking at XCOR I think that question’s already answered,” said Marv Easterly, director of Midland International Airport, where XCOR will set up shop. “It’s probably the neatest thing that I’ve ever seen.”

“When we were looking at the right fit for our community, taking a chance with bringing in the first large company in our target industry, the fact that they were a leader in this new type of industry, the fact that they had an established business plan,” sad MDC chairman Laura Romans.

Greason and Andrew Nelson, XCOR’s COO, emphasized that this was an expansion, not a move, and that they would maintain an operations base in Mojave, where they’re currently developing the prototype Mark 1 version of their Lynx suborbital spaceplane. That work will continue in Mojave as Midland renovates the hangar that XCOR will lease there and while the airport gets an FAA spaceport license, a process they expect to take up to 18 months. Mojave will also be a base for operational flights. Nelson said that if they later get a “wet lease” customer for the Lynx flying out of Mojave, “we’d be open to that wet lease customer assuming that operation” from XCOR itself.

Development of later versions of the Lynx, though, will take place in Midland. Greason said flight tests of the Mark 2 version of the Lynx, capable of going to 100 kilometers, will take place in Midland. The company is also planning a Mark 3 version for nanosatellite launches and even an orbital system that will start “ramping up” in a few years, Nelson said. “We see over a hundred employees over the next four to five years” in Midland, he said. And that’s music to Midland’s ears.

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