“We can’t ride on the back of Apollo forever.
We got to do something.”
vacant land owned by his father. “I got some great
videos,” he drawls. “Like, you know, unintended
launches, and, uh, dynamic disassembly.”
He pulls out his iPhone to show pictures of his big
machine shop, which he refers to as his “man cave,”
and harbors no illusions about his pathology.
“I’m a fanatic. Once I get interested in something,
I bore in, man. See, I wondered — why is this stuff
so hard to build? I made it simple. No hand-laid-up
composites and hand-welded components and
cryogenics. I avoided sliding surfaces of components with high thermal coefficients. I had to ask,
He started Orion with a savvy business model.
Rather than try to build a whole rocket, he figured
he would specialize in engines, which he knew
about, and sell them to aerospace companies. “Like
selling shovels to miners,” as he puts it. “When you
become a miner, there’s a lot more risk, as you may
not strike gold. If you sell shovels, you’re always
He had a profitable five years, but when he got a
good offer from Dynetics to take over his company
and almost all its employees, he had no hesitation.
He’s in the corporate culture now, but still tackles fun
projects at home. His daughter, Sarah, 18, test-piloted
his most recent invention, a water-powered rocket
belt attached via a 4-inch water hose to a Jet Ski. He
bought almost all the parts from Home Depot.
Behind the stunts, though, he’s deadly serious
about wanting to go into space. “We got all that
heritage, man,” he says. “But we can’t ride on the
back of Apollo forever. We got to do something.”
Meanwhile, Xcor has partnered with United
Launch Alliance to develop engine technologies for
an upper stage for satellite launches.
Why is Greason so confident he can compete
with established aerospace contractors? “A whole
generation of aerospace engineers have no memory
of what a competitive industry is like,” he says.
“Under a government contract, typically you get
paid for cost plus a small percentage. Therefore, if
you find a way to make the product cheaper, you
get paid less!”
Since his competitors spend almost unlimited
sums to develop vehicles that are used once and
thrown away, he figures that “any reasonably economic reusable vehicle would change the basis of
space transportation profoundly — if it just works.”
His big technical advantage is proven reusability. “In a typical rocket engine, the inside wall gets
hot and the outside is cool. You get thermocyclic
fatigue, and the lifetime of those engines tends to
Jeff Greason is calm, amiable, and endlessly
diplomatic. From 1988 through 1997 he worked for
Intel. Still, as he puts it, “I had gotten passionately
interested in commercial space transportation.
And I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life
worrying about how to get Intel from 85 to 90
percent market share.”
He took a substantial financial hit when he
quit his job and founded Xcor Aerospace. It now
has around 20 employees and has developed
something that was thought to be impossible:
66 Make: Volume 24