Publicly traded aerospace company Astrotech quietly lands in Austin

Publicly traded aerospace company Astrotech Corp., which just fired its president, quietly moved its headquarters last summer to Austin from Houston.

“We felt like Austin had a better feel for what we wanted to do in the future than we were experiencing at the time in Houston,” Chairman and CEO and Chairman Thomas Pickens III (photo) says. “The talent pool in Austin is a great fit for some of our growth opportunities.”

Astrotech (Nasdaq: ASTC), known as SPACEHAB Inc. until 2009, employs 10 people at its Austin headquarters in the Frost Bank Tower at 401 Congress Ave. The company’s facilities in Houston, Florida and California house the rest of its 70 employees.

While Astrotech doesn’t have any job openings in Austin now, “we are optimistic that the company will experience growth in the coming years that would enable us to expand in Austin,” company spokesman Scott Haywood says.

On July 16, Astrotech announced it had fired James Royston as president. The company says it has no immediate plans to fill that position.

“This corporate leadership realignment allows us to streamline Astrotech, reduce overall costs and maximize shareholder value,” Pickens says in a news release.

Royston became president of Astrotech in 2007; he had joined the company in 2000.

Last month, retired Gen. Lance Lord resigned as president of the company’s Astrotech Space Operations Inc. unit and from the company’s board of directors. That board seat will go unfilled until Astrotech’s next annual meeting, the company says, and the role of CEO of Astrotech Space Operations will remain open pending a review of internal and external candidates.

“General Lord was hired to help the company with our restructuring efforts and he proved to be instrumental in the successful execution of that now-completed strategy,” Pickens says in a news release.

Last July, Astrotech hired John Porter as chief financial officer. Porter, a senior vice president of the company, had been interim CFO since the resignation of Brian Harrington in June 2009.

Astrotech provides spacecraft payload processing and government services; designs and manufactures space hardware; and commercializes space technologies for use on Earth. The company was incorporated in 1984 and went public in 1995.

One of its subsidiaries, 1st Detect Corp., is developing a mini-mass spectrometer first created for the International Space Station. Another subsidiary, Astrogenetix Inc., is working on biotech products in space and recently developed a vaccine candidate for Salmonella.

Earlier this year, 1st Detect received a $1.8 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

Astrotech posted a third-quarter net loss of $600,000 on revenue of $6.6 million, compared with third-quarter net income of $3.6 million on revenue of $11.8 million a year earlier.

In fiscal 2009, about two-thirds of Astrotech’s revenue came from NASA and U.S. government contracts or subcontracts.

Last year, Astrotech regained Nasdaq compliance after failing to maintain a minimum stock price of $1 per share.

As of its most recent proxy statement, Fort Worth-based SMH Capital Advisors Inc., a subsidiary of Houston’s Sanders Morris Harris Group, owned 29 percent of Astrotech’s common stock; Chicago-based Bruce & Co. Inc., 8 percent; and Astrium GmbH, a German subsidiary of aerospace and defense giant EADS, 7 percent.

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