Looking at the near-future, we can safely start saying that the second half of this decade will see the rise of a new industry: space tourism. One of the companies that will do battle in this arena is XCOR Aerospace, a small American private rocket engine and spaceflight development company originally based at the Mojave Spaceport in Mojave, California. Its story starts in 1999, when four employees of Rotary Rocket’s rocket engine development team got laid off and decided that as they knew how to build rockets, they should have a shot at doing it themselves. Why should you pay attention to these guys? Well for one, they’ve got Buzz Aldrin on their side as you can see in this promotional campaign below by Unilever.
The Mojave Spaceport by the way is close by Edwards Air Force base, where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. Aside from Aldrin, they are going about it a whole different way. Forget booster rockets and secondary launch vehicles. XCOR‘s Lynx looks like a mini-Learjet, but unlike a Learjet, this tiny reusable space ship can take off and travel to space all by itself. It is the company’s plan to do this four times a day, six days a week, which would allow XCOR to accept passengers, space experiments, and small satellites for deployment on just two days’ notice! An impressive feat if they can deliver on it.
The experience will be quite different from what Virgin Galactic is offering, as you’ll stay strapped into your seat in a pressure suit and it will just be you and the pilot (unlike the latter where you will be one of six paying customers, albeit not in a cockpit seat) but Rick Searfoss, XCor Chief Test Pilot and former NASA astronaut with three shuttle missions under his belt, says “We’re trying to position the Lynx adventure as kind of The Right Stuff experience.”
In terms of a schedule, we haven’t seen a date yet as to when the first paying customers will be able to fulfil their dream. XCOR‘s CEO Jeff Greason at one point mentioned that they are in “the homestretch toward the first flight” but that the process can’t be rushed. “We’re not an industry that can ship beta.” In another recent development, XCOR moved announced it would move its operations and research to Texas where it has been promised $10 million in economic-development incentives and a more relaxed regulatory regime. The corporate website still says California, so surely a TBC soon.