Over budget and behind schedule in its quest to build a satellite-carrying rocket, Beal Aerospace last week laid off half its workforce in Texas.
In an effort to retool the way it is producing its BA-2 rocket, Beal gave pink slips to about 80 of its 150 employees, said David Spoede, a Beal vice president. Spoede said the layoffs were not related to the companys time-consuming yet fruitless efforts to build a rocket assembly and world headquarters facility on St. Croix.
The company is also in the midst of a complicated deal to build a rocket launch facility in Guyana.
"I dont think the St. Croix or Guyana projects had anything to do with the layoffs," Spoede said in a phone interview Wednesday from his office in Dallas. "We decided to take a different approach on how were going to design our rocket."
Beals original plan was to develop the components for its BA-2 rocket at the same time. But Spoede said the focus will now be on developing the rocket engines and tanks first, then in about 18 to 24 months moving on to such things as the guidance systems.
According to the Space News, Beal has already successfully tested a booster engine and is working on another more powerful booster engine. But because of the restructuring and layoffs, testing may be delayed, said Spoede.
"Perhaps our original assumptions were a bit overly heroic," Spoede said, adding that the restructuring is a "smart way" to approach cost problems. "Hopefully it will turn out more efficient."
With an eye toward carrying communication satellites into space, Texas banker and developer Andrew Beal founded his company three years ago with his own money. In that quest St. Croix was tapped as the site for the companys world headquarters and a place to assemble rockets before being shipped further south to a launch site near the equator.
Beals first choice for a launch site, Sombrero Island off of Anguilla, was opposed by environmentalists. Then Beals insistence on developing its headquarters-assembly facility in a controversial area on St. Croix drew opposition.
Last December, a Territorial Court judge blocked Beal and the V.I. government from implementing a land-exchange agreement that would have given the company 14 acres of public property as part of a larger plan to construct the headquarters-assembly plant on 270 acres near Great Pond Bay.
Beal announced that it was pulling out of St. Croix two weeks after Judge Alphonso Andrews granted Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansens request for a permanent injunction against the land swap, which the Legislature had approved a year ago Thursday. Andrews ruled that the deal between the company and the government violated terms of the charitable trust through which the land was deeded to the people of the Virgin Islands.
The government and Beal both filed an appeal of Andrews' decision. Their cases have been consolidated and are pending in the local Appellate Division of the District Court.
In a previous interview, Spoede said the company has no interest in returning to the Virgin Islands. He said that as far as Beal is concerned, the appeal is to make sure the company doesnt have to pay the plaintiffs attorney fees. The governments effort, he said, is to undo the "horribly bad" precedent that Andrews set in the case.
In August, Gov. Charles Turnbull, who supported the Beal deal, opted not to renominate Judge Andrews for another six-year term.
Pending approval by the U.S. State Department, Beal is set to build a launch facility in the jungles of Guyana. That project, though, is not without its opponents, primarily indigenous people who live in the remote area where the facility is proposed to be built and the Venezuelan government. If approval is given, Spoede said an environmental impact statement must be conducted.
Spoede said Floridas Cape Canaveral is also being considered as a launch site. And while the rockets must be built on U.S. soil, hence the effort for the St. Croix facility, Spoede said the company "hasnt even begun thinking about" a manufacturing site.