Suborbital Spotlight: XCOR’s Lynx Space Plane

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at XCOR’s Lynx vehicle.  The two-seat suborbital vehicle is being assembled in Mojave, Calif. for its first test flight next year, with commercial operations following as early as 2012.


Lynx is a small rocket-powered aircraft capable of carrying one pilot, a ticketed passenger and/or a payload in a suborbital trajectory. Mark I (Prototype) will fly to 61 km (200,000 ft) and can provide nearly one minute (56 seconds) of microgravity. Mark II (Production Model) will be able to reach 100 km (330,000 ft) with almost three minutes (186 seconds) of microgravity.


Like an aircraft, Lynx is a horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing vehicle, but instead of a jet or piston engine, Lynx uses its own fully reusable rocket propulsion system to depart from a runway and return safely. Flights will last 30 to 45 minutes for both Lynx Mark I and Mark II.


The Lynx vehicle has two primary payload locations and three secondary payload spaces per flight. Inside the vehicle’s pressure cabin the primary payload is located at the right seat and the secondary payload is located aft of the pilot seat.

External space on the vehicle can carry a primary payload in the dorsal pod and 2 secondary payloads on the port and starboard aft fairing ports. The dorsal pod has a nose door that may be opened in flight to expose a telescope or other optical sensor. The dorsal pod can also have windows designed into the structure, depending on the customer’s willingness to fund the special development based on their specific needs.


The first Lynx flight test program (using Mark I prototype) is anticipated to start 2011 and expected to last nine to eighteen months, could carry suborbital research payloads. Commercial spaceflight participant (passenger) operations of Lynx Mark I will commence after completion of the flight test period. Flight of the first Mark II will follow approximately nine to eighteen months later depending on the prototype’s advancement through the test program.


Operating tempo is assumed to be one flight per day in the first few months of the flight test program. However, XCOR expects this will gradually rise to three (3) per day (per vehicle) after one year in service and be up to four (4) per day during standard operations.


Initial launch and landing site will be Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA. Under full operations Lynx will fly from any licensed spaceport with a 2100 meters (6890 ft) runway, such as Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Virginia (MARS), Cape Canaveral (Florida), Spaceport America (New Mexico), Oklahoma Spaceport, etc. Lynx, as well as its ground support equipment and crew, are designed to be transportable on many standard cargo aircraft such as C-130, C-17 and C-5.

Editor’s Note: The above information was compiled from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program website and XCOR’s public Request for Information (RFI) response for the CRuSR program. A shout out to Clark Lindsey of Hobby Space for originally finding the published information.