Will XCOR’s Lynx’s spaceplane be reborn as smallsat launcher taking off from California airport?

Capitalism in space: Wagner Star Industries, a startup that now owns the unfinished Lynx spaceplane that bankrupt XCOR had intended for suborbital tourists flights, has signed a agreement with Paso Robles Municipal Airport in California to launch from there.

Wagner’s plan is to reconfigure Lynx as an unmanned first stage that would launch smallsats into orbit. It would launch and land on a runway from Paso Robles.

Wagner Star is in the process of converting the first Lynx vehicle into a drone so it can begin tests, according to the company’s website. The work involves removing life-support systems that had been installed to support the pilot and passenger and installing equipment for remote controlled operation.

Quetzalcóatl would take off from a runway, release its payload in suborbital space, and then glide back to where it took off. The company said it would be able to launch satellites from any commercial airport runway for $5 million per flight. A suborbital flight without a satellite launch would cost $3 million.

A clever plan. I have doubts about the satellite launches, but using this plane to place drones into high altitude where they could then continue to fly for great distances will almost certainly appeal to the military.

XCOR shuts down

Capitalism in space: XCOR, the company that was going to fly tourists on the Lynx reusable suborbital plane by 2013, has laid off its last remaining employees.

Though years ago I predicted this failure accurately, I do not celebrate it. I would have much preferred to have been dead wrong, and to have seen Lynx built and flying, making money from space tourism. At the same time, I am also utterly realistic about the realities of capitalism. To have big successes you need to also have sad failures. XCOR unfortunately belongs to the latter.

XCOR layoffs, ending Lynx?

In the heat of competition: XCOR has laid off the staff working on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane.

The company has apparently decided to focus on those things that are generating revenues. Lynx was years behind schedule, unfinished with no prospect for profit, as it was only a prototype, not the spaceplane that could be used to fly tourists.

As much as I am not surprised (I have been skeptical of XCOR’s Lynx suborbital project since they announced it in 2008), I am saddened, because I really did want them to succeed.

Deposed XCOR founders form new company

The competition heats up? The founders of XCOR, who only weeks ago were pushed out in a management reorganization, have teamed up again to form a new company.

Forgive me if I am as skeptical of this new company as I am of XCOR. I’ve looked at all the news articles describing this new company, and see little there that excites me. Lots of talk about new management ideas and agile production efforts, but in the end nothing that suggests anything revolutionary.

These guys had more than a decade at XCOR to produce something and essentially never did. Why should I think they will do it now, just because they are hanging a different company name on their sign?

Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to celebrate if they make something happen. I just remain exceedingly skeptical.

XCOR founders step down

In the heat of competition: Three of XCOR’s founders are leaving the company, even as it struggles to finish its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

XCOR Aerospace said in a statement that Jeff Greason and Dan DeLong, the chief technology officer and chief engineer of the company, respectively, were “stepping back” from those positions “to turn their attention to pursue other interests.” A third co-founder, Aleta Jackson, was not mentioned in the release but is also leaving the company.

I am saddened that these individuals will not be there should XCOR finally succeed in finishing Lynx and flying it. At the same time, the fact that they are leaving at this stage suggests strongly to me that Lynx is nowhere close to flying, and that the company bean-counters have realized this and have now been forced to take action.

As regular readers to BtB know, I have always been extremely skeptical of XCOR’s effort. I have always wanted them to succeed, but in casting a cold eye at their progress I have never had much confidence that they would. Today’s story sadly adds strength to my skepticism.

Spaceport head says Lynx to launch in early 2016

The competition heats up: The president of the spaceport in Midland, Texas, said today that XCOR’s Lynx suborbital spacecraft will complete its first test launch in the second quarter of 2016.

My readers know that I have been very skeptical of XCOR. They also know, if they have read closely, that I would be thrilled if they proved me wrong and succeeded. I think we shall find out one way or the other next year.

An update on XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft

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.

XCOR sells its Lynx suborbital spaceplane

This NBC story tries very hard to help XCOR sell its Lynx suborbital space plane, but I found myself very unimpressed. To me the images suggested instead that little progress has occurred in recent months, and that the project has stalled.

I hope I am wrong, but this whole story reminded me strongly of many of Richard Branson’s efforts to sell Virgin Galactic, which have so far proven to be vastly overstated.

Brian Binnie, the man who flew SpaceShipOne for Scaled Composites, has left that company for competitor XCOR

Brian Binnie, the man who flew SpaceShipOne for Scaled Composites, has left that company for competitor XCOR.

It might simply be the man got a promotion, but it also might be that he knows the problems SpaceShipTwo is having and sees his chances of flying there going down. His willingness to work for XCOR instead could also be looked at as a kind of endorsement of that company’s chances of success.

Excalibur Almaz has signed a deal to use Xcor’s Lynx suborbital craft to train its astronauts.

The competition heats up: Excalibur Almaz has signed a deal to use Xcor’s Lynx suborbital craft to train its astronauts.

Since Xcor has not yet flown Lynx, and Excalibur Almaz as a lot of work to do to make its Soviet-era modules flyable, I would bet that this news release is mostly public relations hype, centered as much on raising investment funds for both companies as it is about training astronauts.

The assembly of the first test vehicle of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital craft has begun.

The competition heats up: The assembly of the first test vehicle of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital craft has begun.

I will admit to great deal of skepticism about this particular space company. Somehow XCOR always manages to get a great deal of coverage in the space community press, despite what I see as lack of any actual space-related results.

I could be wrong however, and if so, I will be the first to celebrate. This article suggests they might finally start test flights by the end of this year.