March 28, 2008 Back in 2001 Californian millionaire Denis Tito made headlines as the worlds' first space tourist - shelling out around US$20 million for the privilege. Seven years on, the competition to offer such an out-of-this-world experience to a broader range of paying customers and capitalize on what is expected to become a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade is heating up. Earlier this year fledgling spaceline Virgin Galactic revealed designs for what will become its flagship -SpaceShipTwo, now Californian based XCOR Aerospace has unveiled a two-seater suborbital spaceship the size of a small private plane that the company expects to have airborne in 2010.
Named the Lynx, the spaceship will be capable of flying several times each day and give passengers a front-seat ride to the edge of space where they will experience zero gravity and see the curvature of the Earth.
The initial flight profile (see image gallery) planned for the horizontal-takeoff-and-landing craft will involve a 3 minute ascent at Mach 2, reaching a height of 37.9 miles (61km / 200,000 feet) before re-entry and landing. The entire journey will take 30 minutes.
"The Lynx will offer affordable access to space for individuals, researchers and educators,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “Future versions of Lynx will offer ever-improving capabilities for scientific and engineering research and commercial applications."
On the question of affordability, it seems a "budget" price-war is already starting to emerge. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the approximate $100K pricetag for a flight on the Lynx is about half that required for a ride on Sir Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo, although the latter will be a significantly faster, longer and higher flight.
Citing nine years’ experience developing reliable, reusable and non-toxic rocket propulsion systems, including the first liquid-fueled rocket-powered aircraft in the U.S., XCOR believes it can provide a solid platform for private sector spaceflight in both suborbital and orbital markets of the future.
“We have designed this vehicle to operate much like a commercial aircraft. Its liquid fuel engines will provide the enhanced safety, durability, reliability and maintainability that keep operating costs low,” Greason said. “These engines will also minimize the impact of these flights on the environment,” Greason added. “They are fully reusable, burn cleanly, and release fewer particulates than solid fuel or hybrid rocket motors.”
An animation of the Lynx in action can be viewed at the XCOR site.