Suborbital Spaceflight Company Announces Plan To Move Flight Center To Kennedy Space Center
August 24, 2012

Suborbital Spaceflight Company Announces Plan To Move Flight Center To Kennedy Space Center

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Suborbital commercial spaceflight company XCOR Aerospace will be setting up shop far from its founding grounds of Mojave, California. According to officials, the next-generation spaceflight firm will be heading to Florida where it will build its vehicles and launch tourists, researchers and payloads from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

XCOR, which is developing the two-seat Lynx Mark II reusable launch vehicle, is planning on making its first flight in early 2013, and opening operations at KSC in October 2014. It envisions flying its spacecraft(s) four times daily, at a cost of $95,000 per person. These would be similar to rides that are being offered by Virgin Galactic´s SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger vehicle scheduled to offer rides at $200,000 a pop.

According to Reuters, XCOR plans to launch Lynx from both Florida and California spaceports, as well as several other sites around the world, primarily partnering with companies and space agencies to make the flights a reality. The flights will be run in a similar fashion to how airline manufacturers lease their planes and pilots under so-called “wet lease” agreements.

Some details have yet to be worked out, including formal agreements with NASA for the use of the agency´s 15,000-foot-long Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) coastal runway once used for returning shuttle mission crews. And market demand for XCOR´s Lynx vehicle has yet to be established.

“We think it will be a wonderful place to operate from, historically, as well as the fact you have all the centers of excellence for research here at KSC,” Jeff Greason, XCOR´s president and co-founder, said in an August 23 teleconference. Greason was referencing NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, a nonprofit recently established by the space agency to foster research activities in the National Lab segments of the International Space Station.

Several cities have been scouted and evaluated before XCOR ultimately settled on Florida. XCOR was enticed by more than $4 million in state and local economic incentives and a skilled workforce at NASA´s KSC, a workforce that has been largely idle since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet.

The proposed site will include a hangar, flight operations center, manufacturing and assembly plants and a center to support space flight participants. The company expects to employ about 150 engineers and technicians by the end of 2018, said XCOR chief operating officer Andrew Nelson.

Commercial suborbital flights should bring in between $600 million and $1.6 billion in revenue within a decade after operations begin in Florida, according to a recent study commissioned by the US government and state of Florida.

“You also have 30 million tourists a year that come to Central Florida,” Greason said. “So it will be a great opportunity for us in both sectors of the suborbital business.”

XCOR announced in July it was planning to move its Commercial Space Research and Development Center Headquarters to Midland International Airport in West Texas. The R&D center will be staffed by the transfer of existing XCOR personnel in Mojave and the hiring of about 100 local employees, added Greason.

Greason and Nelson have both stated the expansions of the company to other regions have long been in the works. NASA´s KSC and other eventual regions around the world will serve as launching facilities, while Midland will serve as executive headquarters and flight test center.

“We´ve been planning to establish a manufacturing site starting with the third [vehicle] tail number as long as there has been a company,” Greason said in the teleconference. “We´ve been planning for years to locate our long-term R&D center at a place other than California for various business climate reasons, though I love Mojave as an operations location.”

“We want a manufacturing site geographically separate from our research and development people,” Nelson added. “You don´t want the real creative folks who like to change things every five minutes anywhere near the people whose only job in life is to make sure things are exactly the same every time. The fact the workforce here at KSC is focused to make sure everything is exactly the same every single time they launch something is what we want.”