Florida Company Looks to Revive XCOR’s Lynx Spaceplane as Drone to Launch Satellites

Rendering of the Quetzalcoatl spaceplane. (Credit: Wagner Star Industries)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

PASO ROBLES, Calif. — A Florida company is looking to revive defunct XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx spaceplane as a drone that would launch small satellites into orbit before gliding back to a runway landing.

The Quetzalcóatl spaceplane is being developed by Wagner Star Industries of St. Petersburg, Fla. On Tuesday, the Paso Robles City Council voted unanimously to approve a non-binding letter of intent to work with Wagner Star and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo to enable Quetzalcóatl flights from the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. The facility would need to be designated as a spaceport by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Members of the City Council, Planning Commission, and Airport Commission participated in a workshop in which they heard a presentation from Tartaglia Engineering and S.O. Witt and Associates. The latter company is headed by Stu Witt, the former CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California where XCOR was located before it went bankrupt.

XCOR was assembling a two-seat Lynx suborbital spaceplane when it went bankrupt in November 2017. The initial version of the vehicle would have carried a pilot and a passenger on suborbital flights. XCOR also planned to develop a piloted Lynx version that would release an upper stage with satellites from a payload shroud attached to the top of the spaceplane.

The first Lynx was partially finished when XCOR shut down. A nonprofit organization named Build A Plane purchased XCOR’s assets at auction for just under $1.1 million in April 2018.

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.

Quetzalcóatl is designed for rapid turnaround between flights, with up to 5 flights per week or 250 annually. The presentation listed several versions of the spaceplane.

VersionCapabilities/FunctionMotor Quantity & ThrustAltitude
Quetzalcóatl Lynx LM1 ConversionTesting4 -2500 lbf; 10,000 lbf
4 -11.121 kN; 44.482 kN
200,000 ft
60,960 m
Quetzalcóatl V1A– Suborbital 320 kg & future upgrade to LEO
– Testbed for hypersonics
6 -2500 lbf; 15,000 lbf
6 -11.121 kN; 66.723 kN
330,000 ft
100,584 m
Quetzalcóatl V1B– Capability to attach external launcher
– 1,000 kg to low Earth orbit with future upgrade for medium Earth orbit
4 -6500 lbf; 26,000 lbf
4 -28.91344 kN; 115.65 kN
340,000 ft
103,632 m
Quetzalcóatl VM-1500 kg cargo
– Capability to attach external launcher for cislunar & beyond
– Potential for manned version
6 -10,000 lbf; 60,000 lbf
6 -44.482 kN; 266.893 kN
Not specified

The presentation said Wagner Star has identified spaceflight hubs that include the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport & Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom, and Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory of Australia.

In addition to Paso Robles, the company is also considering flying from: Mojave Air and Space Port; Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Fla.; Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Fla.; Thule Air Base in Greenland; and Johnson Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.