Space Expeditions Curacao (SXC), which is marketing flights in the XCOR Lynx, has produced this video of a spaceflight training flight in an Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross.  The L-39 is a primary jet trainer developed and produced in Czechoslovakia from 1971 to 1999.

Written by Astro1 on October 30th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, XCOR Aerospace

Boeing CST-100 capsule and XCOR Lynx spacecraft

Boeing states that it is building its business case for the CST-100 capsule on two flights per year to the International Space Station.

XCOR Aerospace is building its business case for the Lynx spacecraft on the ability to fly four times a day.

Roll those numbers around in your mouth for a while.

Suborbital spaceflight is often dismissed as unimportant (just as the first microcomputers were dismissed as unimportant). It doesn’t have the same numbers – speed, energy, altitude, duration – as orbital spaceflight.

But like the first microcomputers, it will have the numbers that matter.

Written by Astro1 on October 23rd, 2012 , Boeing, XCOR Aerospace

“There’s a new word now for that old-school vision of California, and that word is – Texas!” Bill Whittle produced the following video about California’s economic problems and XCOR’s move to Texas.

California needs companies like XCOR a lot more than the companies need California, but the state does not seem to realize that. California’s denial mirrors many of the statements we hear from politicians in DC about commercial space. Like the government of California, they think private enterprise needs the government (in this case NASA) more than the government needs private enterprise.

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Written by Astro1 on September 24th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Lynx suborbital spacecraft cockpit mockup

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Written by Astro1 on September 19th, 2012 , Citizens in Space, XCOR Aerospace

With the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as a backdrop, XCOR Aerospace has announced its intentions to establish an operational base for the Lynx spacecraft in Florida. As market demand dictates, XCOR may also establish a manufacturing and assembly center for the Lynx Mark II.

XCOR Lynx suborbital reusable rocket spacecraft over Florida

XCOR plans to fly the Lynx suborbital spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, the Cecil Field Spaceport, or other Florida location within the next two years. If the market for Lynx spacecraft grows as XCOR expects, the company will also begin assembly and factory test of Lynx production models, designed Lynx Mark II, on the Florida Space Coast, starting with Tail Number 3. Lynx production and operations could create more than 150 jobs by late 2018.

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Written by Astro1 on August 23rd, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

We’re not talking about the migration of humans from Earth into space, although we are optimistic that will begin in earnest in the next few years.

We’re talking about the migration of commercial space companies from one part of the United States to another.

In July, XCOR Aerospace announced the relocation of its main research and development operation to Midland, Texas. Next week, XCOR is expected to make another announcement. Although the official statement won’t come until August 23, word is already out on the street that  XCOR will announce the development of an engine and vehicle production facility in Florida.

XCOR will retain some operations at Mojave Air and Space Port, in the high desert of California where the company was born. It will probably continue to base a Lynx suborbital spaceship there for the foreseeable future, to provide a launch site for West Coast missions. The company’s main focus, however, is clearly shifting to other states.

Some observers may question the sudden expansion of XCOR into not one, but two new states. The move makes sense, however. Locating R&D and production facilities in two separate states will minimize the possibility of R&D activities randomizing the assembly line.

It’s also worth noting that Masten Space Systems has a signed contract with Space Florida to begin flying its VTVL rocketship at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At the moment, the agreement calls for nothing more than demonstration flights, but that could change in the future. Space Florida officials expect XCOR to create 152 new jobs in Florida. They are no doubt keeping a close eye on Masten. If they see similar potential for growth, it’s reasonable to expect that they will make a push for that company as well.

Meanwhile, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is looking to expand operations in Texas, both at its McGregor testing facility near Waco and a proposed new launch site in South Texas.

All of these moves have one common denominator: they are away from California. While other states are dangling incentives in front of emerging space companies, California has elected to incentivize trial lawyers instead. States such as Texas have passed bills to protect commercial spaceflight operators from potentially crippling lawsuits, but a bill introduced in the California legislature was watered down to the point of meaninglessness. It appears that California has decided to export aerospace jobs.

Written by Astro1 on August 16th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems, Spaceports, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace

Good news. We’ve cleared an important hurdle, which was placed in our path by the US government.

Ever since we announced our citizen science-challenges this spring, we’ve been telling prospective applicants to consult the XCOR Lynx Payload User’s Guide for technical details. Unfortunately, the Payload User’s Guide hasn’t been unavailable until now.

When we made our initial announcement, we expected the Payload User’s Guide to be available in a matter of days, but its release was held up by ITAR (Intenational Traffic in Arms Regulations) – the bureaucratic nightmare that is the bane of the space industry.

Today, XCOR announced that the Payload User’s Guide is available.  Electronic copies can be requested through the XCOR website.

Let the payload-development games begin.

Written by Astro1 on July 24th, 2012 , Citizens in Space, XCOR Aerospace

NanoRacks, LLC has completed an internal investigation into the failure of some student experiments that were delivered to the International Space Station by the SpaceX Dragon in May and returned by the Russian Soyuz in July.

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Written by Astro1 on July 15th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), NanoRacks, XCOR Aerospace

(Dallas) The United States Rocket Academy welcomed this week’s announcement that XCOR Aerospace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas.

“Texas is on the verge of becoming the Space State,” said United States Rocket Academy chairman Edward Wright. “XCOR will be the fourth company testing fully reusable suborbital rocketships in Texas.”

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Written by Astro1 on July 13th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

XCOR Aeropspace will establish a new Commercial Space Research and Development Center Headquarters in Midland, Texas within the next 18 months. Midland Development Corporation is offering $10 million in financial incentives to assist with the move, which was announced today in Midland.

Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared at the press conference. Perry said, “This is a great day for Midland and a huge step forward for the State of Texas. Visionary companies, like XCOR, continue to choose Texas because they know that innovation is fueled by freedom. Whether on the cutting edge of biotech, communications, commerce or privatized efforts to serve the needs of the next generation of space explorers, you can find Texas at the forefront of the movement.”

XCOR will establish a new R&D center, including office space and a test facility, in a newly renovated 60,000-square-foot hangar at Midland International Airport. Renovation will begin in early 2013 and be completed by late autumn.

XCOR chief operating officer Andrew Nelson said, “We are pleased to be establishing our R&D Center in Midland, Texas, where the weather, surrounding landscape, the airport, and the local and state government environment are ideally situated for the future growth and the ultimate realization of a fully reusable orbital system. With future suborbital operational sites on the East and West Coasts of the United States and around the world, plus a manufacturing and test facility geographically separate from our R&D facility, Midland will truly be at the heart of XCOR’s innovation engine.”

The City of Midland is applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for a Commercial Space Launch Site designation, an estimated 12 to 18 months process. Upon completion of the licensing process and the hangar renovation, the XCOR presence will ramp up.

Written by Astro1 on July 9th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

We were sworn to secrecy until the official press conference, but a local Texas reporter leaked the story this morning, so it’s now public.

cowboy, horse, and spaceship

XCOR Aerospace is coming to Midland, Texas.

The CBS 7  news story is here.

For any Yankees who don’t know, Midland Texas is home to the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum and the CAF’s annual Airsho (yes, that’s spelling correctly), which may have an interesting new act in the near future.

Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace Tags:

Suborbital spacecraft may play an important role in training astronauts for orbital and deep-space missions.

Today, US astronauts (and their foreign counterparts) receive no training on rocket-powered vehicles prior to their first orbital flight. Whether they are pilots or payload operators, they are “thrown into the deep end of the pool” on their first space mission. Space agencies attempt to compensate, through extensive ground-based training and simulation, but the step up from ground-based training to actual flight is still enormous. Then, completing their mission, astronauts face a gap of many months or years before their next flight. Military and airline pilots have to meet regular “currency requirements,” but astronauts have no way to stay current in rocket-powered vehicles.

NASA has recognized the potential value of suborbital spacecraft for astronaut training. In 2008, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said, “We could use commercial suborbital human transportation for early training and qualification of astronauts. If I could buy a seat to suborbital flight for a few hundred thousand dollars, why wouldn’t we have all of our new astros make their first flight in such a manner?” NASA never followed through on proposed studies of such training, however, perhaps because of budget overruns in other areas.

Commercial space companies are interested, however. XCOR Aerospace and Excalibur Almaz recently signed a memorandum of understanding that would open the door for XCOR to provide training for Excalibur Almaz astronauts using the Lynx spacecraft. If the idea catches on, suborbital spaceflight may become a standard part of the training toolkit for all future astronauts.

Such training could provide additional impetus for the development of a commercial spaceports near national space centers. It could be a particular boon to Texas. There has already been talk of establishing a suborbital spaceport at Ellington Airport, adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Commercial suborbital spacecraft would be a useful supplement to the fleet of T-38 Talon jet trainers which NASA already has based at Ellington.

Excalibur Almaz Space Expeditions

Excalibur Almaz is marketing a commercial space capsule called the RRV, or Reusable Reentry Vehicle, based on the TKS capsule developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The TKS capsule was intended for use with the Almaz (military Salyut) space station. It was tested in an unmanned configuration, but the Almaz program was cancelled before manned flights of the capsule were conducted.

Excalibur Almaz RRV (Reusable Reentry Vehicle) space capsule

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Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2012 , Excalibur Almaz, Innovation, Space History, XCOR Aerospace

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program is keeping a close eye on 2011 AG5, an Earth-crossing asteroid that could hit the Earth on February 5, 2040.

2011 AG5 is 140 meters in diameter. In the unlikely event of an impact, it would strike with the force of a 100-megaton bomb. NASA is sufficiently concerned that it held a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid Workshop at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center last month.

The probability of 2011 AG5 hitting Earth is currently estimated at 0.2%, but the estimate is still being refined. The probability will change when the asteroid passes through a gravitational keyhole on a pass by Earth in February 2023.

If 2011 AG5 is on a course toward Earth, further data could raise our certainty to 70%. Such data could be used to plan an intercept mission, which could occur either before or after the 2023 keyhole event.

Unfortunately, it’s currently impossible to observe 2011 AG5 because its relative position is too close to the Sun. It will not be possible for astronomers to observe 2011 AG5 again until fall of 2013.

Observing objects that appear close to the Sun will be one of the key missions for suborbital telescopes, such as the Atsa Suborbital Observatory which is slated to fly on the XCOR Lynx Mark III. The Atsa Observatory won’t be flying in time to help with the 2011 AG5 problem, but it will be valuable for studying similar asteroids in the future.

XCOR Lynx with Atsa Suborbital Observatory space telescope

A robust plan for dealing with potentially hazardous asteroids will require a range of in-space capabilities, from suborbital observatories to deep-space intercept and deflection techniques.

Suborbital spacecraft are being developed in the private sector and do not require government investment – but what about the intercept and deflection problem?

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who created the B612 Foundation to develop asteroid-deflection techniques, does not think NASA is doing enough. Schweickart discusses 2011 AG5 and possible deflection techniques in the following video.

Written by Astro1 on June 18th, 2012 , Astronomy, Planetary Defense, XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace and Space Expedition Curaçao held a press conference in New York City on June 7 to announce their new marketing arrangement for Lynx flights.

Written by Astro1 on June 13th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

Courtesy of XCOR Aerospace and Citizens in Space.

XCOR Aerospace Lynx cockpit courtesy XCOR Aerospace and Citizens in Space

Written by Astro1 on May 14th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

The SpaceShip Two flight-test program may be experiencing some delays, if a new article in Flight Global is accurate.

The article quotes an unnamed Virgin Galactic source saying the company would have “some drop tests” in June or July and “a lot of drop tests” in the third quarter.

That would indicate progress for SpaceShip Two, which has not flown since it entered a deep stall during its last glide flight on September 29, 2011. It would be slower progress than recently expected, however. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides had been predicting powered flights this summer. According to the new article, powered test flights are now expected to begin around the end of the year. By interesting coincidence, that’s the same time frame in which XCOR Aerospace expects to begin powered test flights of the Lynx.

Editorial note: We are not suggesting that Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites and XCOR are in a race. Timelines for flight test are properly dictated by engineering and safety considerations. Both organizations have shown a high degree of professionalism, and we are confident that neither will allow its engineering judgement to be compromised by a “racing” mentality.

Written by Astro1 on May 11th, 2012 , Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace has revealed the top-secret test vehicle they’ve been using to test the piston-pump technology that’s being used in the Lynx spaceplane.

XCOR chief engineer Dan DeLong says, “We debated how best to put many hours of wear time on the critical bearing components of our rocket propellant piston pump, that are subject to significant wear and tear. This particular motorcycle, the Triumph Street Triple, develops about the same horsepower and has the same cylinder arrangement as the liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel pumps for the Lynx suborbital spacecraft. That makes it ideal for a long-life pump test platform. The bike is much less expensive to operate than the full up rocket pump test stand.  We’re adding hours of run time each ride, not just minutes.”

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Written by Astro1 on May 4th, 2012 , XCOR Aerospace

Astronomy has entered a new era of mega-telescopes, where even ground-based instruments can cost upwards of a billion dollars. The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to cost more than $8 billion. Obviously, such instruments are well out of the range of citizen scientists. The future for amateur astronomy is not dim, however. Smaller, lower-cost telescopes remain relevant and useful for astronomy.

For this reason, both professional and amateur astronomers should welcome the development of reusable suborbital spacecraft which can carry small telescopes on short-duration missions. These low-cost missions will enable many astronomical experiments that benefit from access to space but do not need (and often cannot afford) a ride to orbit.

Flying telescopes on suborbital spacecraft is not a new idea. In the 1960’s, the X-15 rocketplane flew a number of telescopes for NASA. The NASA Office of Space Sciences sponsored the Ultraviolet Stellar Photography experiment, for example, which photographed Alpha Aurigue, Eta Aurigue, and Rho Aurigue from altitudes above 246,000 feet.

Professional astronomers are already starting to develop astronomical instruments for the new commercial suborbital vehicles. Among the first of these instruments is the Atsa Suborbital Observatory, designed by Dr. Faith Vilas of the Planetary Science Institute and Dr. Luke Sollitt of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Dr. Vilas recently left her position as director of the MMT (Multiple Mirror Telescope) Observatory to develop Atsa.

The Atsa Observatory is based on commercial off-the-shelf components. The optical component is a 14-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, with some modifications to increase its ruggedness. The main sensor will be a commercially available Silver 220 or  Thermovision SC4000 infrared camera. Visiting scientists will have the option of bringing their own sensors, however.

Atsa Observatory suborbital space telescope

Atsa (the Navaho word for “eagle”) will fly on the XCOR Lynx Mark III. It will be controlled during flight by a payload operator in the Lynx’s right seat. Having a human in the loop means that researchers won’t have to spend a lot of money automating their experiments and debugging control software. The Lynx spacecraft will do the coarse pointing of the telescope using its maneuvering thrusters, but a gimbal-drive-motor assembly will do the fine pointing. Atsa will ride in the Lynx’s dorsal experiment pod and be exposed to space by a door during flight. Dr. Vilas says, “The best window is no window.”

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Written by Astro1 on March 28th, 2012 , Astronomy, Innovation, XCOR Aerospace

XCOR Aerospace chief operating officer Andrew Nelson spoke at the SETI Institute on February 29. For those who didn’t have a chance to attend, the SETI Institute has posted the complete talk (just over an hour) on YouTube.

Written by Astro1 on March 18th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General), XCOR Aerospace