Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Beal Aerospace ceases work to build commercial rocket

Posted: October 24, 2000

  Beal rocket
An artist's concept of Beal's proposed BA-2 rocket. Photo: Beal Aerospace
Beal Aerospace Technologies is shutting down the quest to build a completely private medium to heavy-lift rocket to launch commercial satellites into orbit, the company announced Monday.

The Dallas-based private firm had already built and tested several large engines at its test site in central Texas.

Issuing a statement regarding the shutdown of his company, founder and chairman Andrew Beal said Monday competition with government-funded programs such as NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) and the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) was an "insurmountable risk" against the commercial viability of Beal Aerospace.

NASA's Space Launch Initiative is aimed at developing future manned space launchers, as well as unmanned commercial satellite launch vehicles. Beal said that the new government EELV program, which includes the Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 and Boeing Delta 4 rockets, is unfair in that the funding for those two launch systems partially come from the government and their investment in the Air Force program.

"There will never be a private launch industry as long as NASA and the U.S. government choose and subsidize launch systems."

Also, the statement pointed out reasons why it is difficult to compete with aerospace giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. "While Boeing and Lockheed are private entities, their launch systems and components are derivatives of various military initiatives," the statement read, referring to the fact that Atlas and Delta rockets were originally developed as Cold War ballistic missiles in the 1950s and 1960s.

Other risks they faced included "federal laws mandating our potential liability for pre-existing environmental contamination at the only available Cape Canaveral launch pads’" and "uncertainty over U.S. government State Department approval to launch from our own launch facilities in the foreign country of Guyana," stated the Beal release. Beal Aerospace had signed an agreement with the country of Guyana in South America to build a private commercial spaceport in that country.

"In spite of these additional risks which we have faced for some time, we would have remained in business if the government would have simply guaranteed that NASA’" subsidized launch systems would never be allowed to compete with the private sector."

Beal Aerospace had tested its BA-2 second stage BA-810 liquid-fueled engine in March, building and firing the second largest liquid-fueled powerplant ever built in the United States, surpassed only by the F-1 engines used on the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the Moon. It was also the largest engine ever built with no organized public funding.

Plans were to have the large first stage engine test fired at Beal's central Texas test facility some time next year. The test stand for that engine's test was already completed.

Monday's announcement came after a series of cost overruns and delays in getting the Beal BA-2 to operational status. For example, Beal Aerospace let go half of its employees in a futile attempt to keep the company alive.