The Beal Aerospace Story

Founded in 1997, Beal Aerospace was a pioneer in private efforts to explore space.  Through its brief but eventful existence, the company helped lay the foundation for the success enjoyed by the private space industry today.

As a leader at the beginning of the private space industry, Beal Aerospace made significant advances in low cost hydrogen peroxide / kerosene propulsion systems, including the BA-810 engine and the BA-2 orbital launch vehicle.

Beal Aerospace BA-810

The privately financed project reached a major milestone on March 4, 2000 when Beal Aerospace fired the largest liquid rocket engine built since the Apollo program. The 3,600 kN vacuum thrust hydrogen peroxide / kerosene Stage 2 engine, designated the BA-810, made a 21-second firing at the company's engine test facility in McGregor, Texas. At that time, flights of the launch vehicle were scheduled to begin in 2004. (source:

Beal BA-2

American low cost orbital launch vehicle.

The Beal Aerospace BA-2 was a privately-financed heavy-lift commercial launch vehicle that used innovative technical solutions to achieve low cost to orbit. . . .

The three-stage launcher stood 72 m tall and had the capacity to lift 6,000 kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit and 17,000 kg to low earth orbit. The BA-2 had a constant diameter of 6.2 m and a large payload fairing that could accommodate side-by-side placement of larger satellite payloads. The vehicle employed one pressure-fed centerline engine per stage. Hydrogen peroxide and standard aviation fuel were used as propellants, providing environmental advantages. Tank pressurization was by inert helium gas. The pressure-fed technique negated the use of costly and complicated turbo pumps. (source:

The BA-2 program was, at the time, the largest privately-funded program to ever build a large capacity space launch system.

Unfortunately, even development of a revolutionary, reliable, and low-cost orbital launch system was not enough to insure commercial viability.

Just as companies like Beal Aerospace were proving that the private sector was quite capable of developing innovative ideas and making strides to bring economy and accountability to the space race, NASA began subsidizing competing launch systems via the Space Launch Initiative (SLI).  (This initiative, despite being paid for by U.S. taxpayers and competing directly with the private sector, generated several engines which were never actually used by NASA or other private space companies.)

Though Mr. Beal testified to a Congressional subcommittee about the risk the SLI posed to private space development, NASA remained committed to the effort and Congress approved an initial $290 million fund for the program.

While Mr. Beal acknowledged that NASA would always be involved in developing human rated launch systems — their history and focus were on exactly that — what puzzled many observers, was that the agency would also subsidize non-human rated mission systems such as cargo for the space station and commercial satellite missions.

Beyond the establishment of the taxpayer-funded research, Beal Aerospace faced other significant and uncontrollable risks, including

  1. Federal laws mandating potential liability for pre-existing environmental contamination at the available launch pads at Cape Canaveral, and
  2. uncertainty over U.S. State Department approval to launch from Beal Aerospace launch facilities in Guyana.

In spite of these additional risks, Beal Aerospace would have remained in business if the government would have simply guaranteed that NASA's subsidized launch programs would never be allowed to compete with the private sector.  The government would not make such guarantees.

Beal Aerospace believed it could compete successfully against the government subsidized Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV).  What it could not do is determine the characteristics and depth of subsidy for NASA's SLI.

Once it became clear that NASA and Congress intended to proceed with subsidizing competing launch systems, Beal Aerospace had only one choice remaining: either cease operations entirely or evolve into a government contractor like Boeing and Lockheed, seeking government contracts to assist the development of the NASA system.

Because Beal Aerospace could not compete with the depthless pockets of the American government, and because it believed that a free and vibrant market would provide more and better options for space exploration and development than the top-down command-and-control structure required by Congress, Beal Aerospace elected to cease operations in October 2000.