March 26, 2008
XCOR to Unveil New Suborbital Rocketship
GOLDEN, Colo. — XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif. unveiled
plans today for a new entry in the suborbital spaceship business — a
rocket-powered space plane to be known as the Lynx.
The Lynx is being designed
to carry a pilot and a passenger or payload on flights into suborbital space.
Company officials are eyeing 2010 as the date for the inaugural launch of the
Lynx is roughly the size of
a small private airplane. It would be capable of flying several times a day
making use of reusable, non-toxic
engines to help keep the space plane's operating costs low, according to
XCOR officials hope to obtain some
funding from the Air Vehicles Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory
(AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to showcase the operationally
responsive attributes of Lynx. That Small Business Innovation Research Phase II
award is, however, pending successful contract negotiations and sign off by the
Government Contracting Officer.
"There is a maximum
value of $750,000 for Phase 2 of this contract. But the final amount depends on
two things: the outcome of the contract negotiations, and then developing and flying
the Lynx, XCOR Aerospace spokesman Doug Graham
said. "We have several milestones we will have to meet. This is part of
what is being negotiated."
Details regarding the Lynx
were made public March 26 at a media briefing held in Beverly
Robust passenger market
Lynx is being built by XCOR Aerospace to thrust the roughly 30-person
entrepreneurial firm into the burgeoning space tourism market, said Jeff Greason, XCOR's chief executive
"When I look back at
what the situation was eight years ago, where we were kind of afraid to say
carrying people ... now every new player comes to the game thinking the
market's even bigger," Greason told SPACE.com
in a March 22 phone interview. "We're still fairly conservative. One
of the advantages of doing a small vehicle that flies frequently is that, if
the market goes through ups and downs, or takes a little more time to develop,
we're not over-exposing ourselves."
added, Lynx should be able to fly plenty of people following the craft's test
program. "The passenger market is looking incredibly robust."
XCOR's chief engineer, said somewhere between 20 and
50 test flights of Lynx are on tap, along with numerous static engine firings
on the ground. A full step-by-step set of taxi tests, runway hops and full-up
flights are planned to get the vehicle to a state of operational readiness, he
said in a March 21 telephone interview.
"It will be just like
a military fighter plane flight test program," DeLong
said. The rocket company has already developed the baseline reaction control
engines, propulsion hardware needed to steer Lynx at high altitude above Earth,
XCOR Aerospace was founded in 1999. The
company's engine and rocket track record includes the first privately built
liquid-fueled rocket-powered aircraft, the EZ-Rocket. Also, the group has a
contract with the Rocket
Racing League to design and build the first generation of X-Racers.
XCOR's test pilot is former shuttle
astronaut, Rick Searfoss, who will put the Lynx
through a rigorous shakeout program. The vehicle's main propulsion system uses
liquid oxygen and kerosene, DeLong said.
A larger roadmap
Along with taking tourists
to the edge of space, the Lynx
rocket plane is being designed to carry out experiments in microgravity as
well, DeLong said. Through block changes to the core
vehicle, and by adding an upper-stage to the back of the craft, he said
micro-satellites could be lobbed into Earth orbit by an upgrade that would be
dubbed the Lynx Mark 2 suborbital vehicle.
DeLong said XCOR
Aerospace does not plan to sell Lynx passenger rides directly. Rather, the
company would sell blocks of rides to resellers who offer value-added services,
Lynx is seen by XCOR Aerospace as one piece of a larger roadmap of vehicles
— a start small and then add performance approach — eventually
culminating in a piloted orbital system, Greason
said. "We've selected the basket of technologies ... technologies that we
believe position us very well for the suborbital market, but also put us on the
road for later, higher-performance systems," he explained.
The Lynx 1-class rocket
plane is focused more on the passenger space travel market, Greason
said. The AFRL funding is intended to be matched by a larger amount of private investment, he said.
The government money
"gives us some added confidence and belief that we're on the right
track," Greason said.
Regarding added private
investment, "we have some of that," Greason
said. "We're feeling fairly comfortable ... given the rate at which the
money has been coming in lately. If you project it forward, it looks like we
should be able to get there," he noted.
How much money is in the
bank, contrasted to what's necessary to see the Lynx roll down the runway, is
not a number that's available, Greason added.
"It's a lot smaller than you think."
Mojave Air and Space
Scoping out the Lynx, Greason said, has been underway at XCOR
for some three years. A considerable amount of time, energy and money has been
devoted to liquid-fuel engine work at the company, he said.
The testing of Lynx, DeLong said, will take place at the
Mojave Air and Space Port — a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
licensed inland spaceport.
"It is certainly
possible that the operating location [for Lynx] will be Mojave ... but we've
been approached by a number of other locations that would like for us to
operate there. Who knows how that future will play out," Greason observed.
The vehicle performance
category is such that it will likely be test flown under the FAA's new
experimental permit regime, Greason said. For revenue
flights, Lynx would carry a launch license and classified as a suborbital
rocket, he said.
and DeLong saluted the work of Richard Branson's
Virgin Galactic enterprise — a commercial, passenger-carrying
spaceliner competitor with deep pockets.
Galactic has really moved out early and helped to make the market ... making
more people aware that this is a real thing. And that is all to the good. I
wish them every success. In fact, who knows, maybe someday I'll be selling them
ships," Greason concluded.
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