Friday, March 28, 2008

XCOR Aerospace Announces a New Spacecraft

Second among the juicy tidbits of space tourism news this week was the significant announcement by XCOR Aerospace of the Lynx spacecraft.

XCOR is a rocket engine development company based in the Mojave Airport. It was founded in September of 1999 by former members of the Rotary Rocket rocket engine development team, and they have long had aspirations of creating a commercial spacecraft. Their accomplishments have included their 5M15 Methane Rocket Engine, which was one the Time Inventions of the Year in 2007. One of the concepts behind the methane rocket engine relies on the fact that methane is abundant in space. In theory, a spacecraft powered by these engines could refuel en-route while on long distance voyages. Rocket engines like these may be used in some fashion for Nasa's next generation Crew Exploration Vehicle.

But back to today's news. The announcement of the Lynx is a great step toward the developement of a tourist spacecraft.

Wait, didn't I say it is a spacecraft?

Well, XCOR is calling it a "spaceship", but technically, it isn't a spacecraft. XCOR is very careful to say that it will take passengers to the edge of space, but in truth, it will only carry passengers a little higher than 60km, where the US gives astronaut wings to anyone reaching 80km, and Europe's standard is 100km. So, you may ask, if it won't take you to space, what will it do?

The Lynx is a small spacecraft with only a rocket engine; it will launch that rocket from the ground. It will use this engine to take one pilot and one passenger up past 60km a few times per day. It won't be space, but the sky will turn black and passengers will get a few minutes of weightlessness, and that will likely be good enough for some.

Once the Lynx is constructed, it will undergo more than 50 test flights before tourist flights begin, and that is expected to happen in 2010. Also of interest is the price; flights are expected to cost around $100,000, which could attract those not interested in spending twice as much just to say that they've technically been in space.

Personally, however, I'm holding out for true space flight. I want my astronaut wings, damn it!

Just sayin'.

Oh yeah, and here's some pictures (credit XCOR):

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Ugly. This looks like the station wagon of spaceplanes.