An update on XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft

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The competition heats up: According to one XCOR official, its first Lynx suborbital spacecraft is 6 to 9 months from launch.

Peck estimated that XCOR is six to nine months away from the Lynx 1’s first flight. The main structure is complete and the wing mounts are being made. Once the craft is put together, the team in Mojave will do ground testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Peck cited the longer runway at Mojave and the ability to do extensive testing there without shutting down a commercial airport as reasons for doing the test back in California. …

As the Lynx 1 approaches completion, the team is already starting to work on components for the Lynx 2, according to Peck. Peck described the Lynx 1 as a testing vehicle, while the Lynx 2 will be the vehicle that first transports paying customers into suborbital space. The Lynx 3 will be similar to the 2 except that it will have a dorsal pod to carry experiments and microsatellites. [emphasis mine]

I know many space activists have been repeatedly annoyed at me for my continued skepticism of XCOR, but the highlighted news above, that the Lynx craft under construction is only a test vehicle, illustrates why I am skeptical. Until now XCOR has never stated publicly that this Lynx craft was only for testing. Instead, their press releases and public comments have implied that after testing it would be used for paying passengers.

Then there is this: Their last press release update about Lynx’s construction is no longer available on the web. Nor are other press releases. In my experience, legitimate companies do not put their press releases into the memory hole, they keep them available because they help generate publicity. Companies that make them vanish, however, are usually hiding something, and are also generally the companies that in the end do not accomplish what those press releases promise.

Back in 2012 XCOR promised that Lynx would begin test flights that year. They did not. Delays like this are understandable, and are not a reason by itself to be skeptical. Repeated failures to deliver promises however are reasons to be skeptical. For example, they first announced Lynx to great fanfare in 2008, saying then that they hoped to be flying in two years. I did not believe it then, and I was right.

I truly want XCOR to succeed, but I also am not willing to be a PR hack for them. They need to do it for me to believe them.


  • Tom Billings

    “Until now XCOR has never stated publicly that this Lynx craft was only for testing.”

    Funny, I remember hearing Jeff at the 2010 Space Access conference, saying that there would be a predecessor ehicle that would have only the pilot in it. I believe there were several mentions of it elsewhere as well, though those are not coming through my memory as to time and place.

  • Edward


    The last link, to a Flightglobal article in 2012, does say that there will be a Mk1 design that is just for test, a Mk2 with two major changes, and a Mk3 with a payload bay. “Xcor has discovered the Mk3 will require more extensive design changes than first thought.”

    My concern with these delays is twofold:

    1) XCOR may only be able to fund its work at a slow pace, a sort of “go as you pay” philosophy, which also seems to be NASA’s philosophy for getting to Mars. This philosophy is based upon a variable and unpredictable funding source, so planning and scheduling are difficult. It also can lead to layoffs and further delays during the time that new hires are brought up to speed when funding increases again.

    (The Space Shuttle had similar difficulties during the 1970s as funding was shuffled to areas of the project that were in trouble and taken away from areas that were (up to then) doing well — causing problems for the good performing areas and companies.)

    2) XCOR may also be discovering unexpected difficulties in the design, just as Virgin Galactic has found with its engine. Both XCOR and Virgin have gone well beyond twice the lengths of their originally expected development phases.

    On the other hand, Blue Origin remains secretive about its schedule and its progress. The main reason that we know anything about their progress is that they had to get FAA approval to perform a test launch, so they released a video of the successful part of the test. We have less to complain about with them, as we do not know when their original plan expected commercial operations to begin. For all we know, they have also gone beyond twice their expected development phase.

    I’m not sure which is worse: being left hanging as announced plans keep being pushed back, or being left hanging because plans are not announced at all.

  • The clear impression given by all previous press announcements, now no longer available, was that the vehicle under construction was the vehicle that would fly passengers. Greason might have said something different at a conference, but as a company they have been quite willing to let the press think otherwise.

    I remain skeptical. They have to convince me with some actual flights.

  • “I’m not sure which is worse: being left hanging as announced plans keep being pushed back, or being left hanging because plans are not announced at all.”

    For myself, the worst thing you can do is to give me the impression that you are lying to me and playing me like a fool. XCOR and Virgin Galactic have been doing this now for years, and I am tired of it. Both have been making unrealistic promises that they can’t meet, time after time after time. I lose patience with this very quickly.

    Blue Origin makes no promises, but when they fly they actually do it. Who can complain about that?

    The best thing however is what SpaceX has done: Made big promises and then deliver.

  • I’m not sure exactly why the change was made, but I’m relieved they won’t be using a prototype for revenue generating flights. Virgin Galactic was going to fly passengers on its prototype before the vehicle crashed last year. I believed that to be a generally bad idea because using prototypes in commercial service is not done. They are, by definition, imperfect systems designed for testing purposes. The goal is to find all their flaws and correct them for production models.

    There are several causes for their delays. For one, the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008 and the company didn’t have much of any money for 2 to 3 years. The more recent delays have been caused by XCOR under estimating the time and complexity of building the first Lynx.

  • Edward

    “Who can complain about that?”

    Point taken.

    As for SpaceX: results matter, and they *have* shown results. Since they have not made promises about their reusable first stage, we can’t complain about that, either, although they seem to have come close to success after only four-ish years of development.

  • Edward

    Oops. I meant to say about SpaceX that a second point was taken.

  • All of XCOR’s previous press releases are on the website. At least as near as I can tell. Press releases going back to 2008.

    They’re under the News tab. Once you get to that page, you might have to click on pull down menu because the releases seem to be several categories.

  • I stand corrected, the press releases are still available, though not at their original urls. They should have made sure that the old links took you to the new links.

    As I have said many times, I hope my skepticism of XCOR is proven wrong, and that they are a big success. If they are flying the Lynx test vehicle in 6 to 9 months, I will be quite thrilled. Nor will I be upset if there is some delay to this schedule but they still end up flying.

    I remain skeptical however.

  • They recently revamped the website, which seems to have included combining blog posts with press releases.

    I have found that XCOR usually says what it means and means what it says. The 6 to 9 month estimate seems accurate. It’s what they believe is achievable. Whether it is…I don’t know. Things are moving pretty well on the shop floor here in Mojave. Whether that continues or they run into further delays….time will tell.

    That they’ve been overly optimistic over the past few years is undeniable. But, generally speaking, XCOR isn’t run by its marketing or PR department making predictions because it’s what sounds good at the time.

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