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The Lynx Is Out Of The Bag

While I slept, XCOR lifted the news embargo at midnight PDT (presumably to allow coverage in today's WSJ).

I'm still a little bleary (and of course still attending the press conference later this morning), but Clark Lindsey has a lot more. Just scroll down.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here's more, from east coaster Jeff Foust, here and here.


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XCOR's press conference will start in LA in a couple hours and I have just found that the embargo on the Lynx Spaceplane press release has been lifted. For those few lucky ones who happened to catch my earlier article and then wondered why it vanished,... Read More


Lisa Ellis wrote:

I think we should be clear. The first vehicle, Lynx, DOES NOT fly tourists to space. It is at best a "near space" vehicle. The US definition of space is 62 miles. There are some in the international community that would argue it is 50 miles. Nonetheless, Lynx does neither.

I applaud their effort but let's not ruin our own credibility by calling this a space tourism vehicle. We MUST police ourselves if we are going to remain credible in the public's eye.

Jeff Mauldin wrote:

Very neat. Seeing this, and hearing about the development of Spaceship two, it makes me feel as if we're really going to incrementally build up the capability to have reliable, reasonably priced space access. It's great--two different companies developing competing vehicles for space (or "near space") access, allowing the market to explore different ways of doing things and paving the way for future development.

As a child in the 70's I imagined I would get to visit a space station or the moon in my lifetime. My hope on that score is increasing once again.

Big D wrote:

It sounds like a scaled-down version of the old Pioneer Rocketplane designs, operating rocket-only/unrefueled from the runway.

I'm not sure how they'd ever scale it up to SSTO, even in theory, though...

Larry J wrote:

I don't think you can scale up that design to SSTO. However, the design can be scaled up over time to have substancial performance. If they're successful with this vehicle, they may be able to obtain the funding necessary to build a more capable vehicle. Build a little, test a little instead of swinging for the bleachers in one step.

XCor's design could potentially be evolved into an orbital vehicle by carrying it SS2 style to a high altitude before firing the rocket. Even that is tough but it would allow for much lighter design that one that tried to take off from a runway. For example, an airdropped design could use much smaller and lighter wings because there would be no need to take off with all that propellant weight, so the wings would be sized for landing at a greatly reduced weight. The landing gear could likewise be much smaller and lighter. Rocket engines can be made considerably more efficient at a drop altitude of 50K feet or so compared to sea level, too. That means you'd need less propellant. Weight snowballs rapidly in aircraft design.

Leland wrote:

First, I completely agree with Lisa Ellis. This is hardly sub-orbital anymore than a F-15. But it does out perform a F-15/F-22 and because of that, it is a big deal and reasonable that it would get some funding from the USAF. I agree that it is not scalable to SSTO, but single stage from runway to 200,000 feet to runway, with potential go-around, is a leap in technology from any known system. That type of technology has its own value militarily and commerically than just space tourism.

I'm not one to get excited about press releases on a drawboard product. I think the real excitement is the new approach and the USAF funding. Otherwise, I'll reserve my enthusiasm for when they take the first takeoff role in 2010. What does excite me is the more overt competition between Lynx and SS2. That's an industry that I like to see.

Larry J wrote:

I don't see a great deal of military application for this design. Sure, it climbs very fast but has a total flight time of about 30 minutes, mostly gliding in for a landing. It's flight profile is a considerably expanded variation of that flown by the Me-163 Komet rocket fighter. Take off, climb rapidly, perform the mission, and glide to a landing hoping not to get shot down (or explode). There just doesn't seem to be a lot of military utility in this vehicle.

If this technology can be evolved to serve as the base for launching small payloads into orbit on short notice (the military calls this operationally responsive launch) then it could be useful. However, I don't see the current design as laying a good foundation for launching payloads into space even using a disposable rocket to take the payload the rest of the way into space. White Knight 2 is probably a better design for this mission.

Larry J,
AFRL's program is all about quickly replacing satellites and other interesting applications of suborbital craft and has nothing at all to do with being any kind of combat aircraft. Go google stuff like "Operationally Responsive Space", RASTE, and the FAST program.

Steve Alltop wrote:

Not to pick a nit, but Lisa I think you have the 62 mile and 50 mile "definitions" of the edge of space reversed. 100 km (62 miles) is the FAI international standard, corresponding with the von Karman line. 50 miles is what the early US standard was. That's what the USAF used to determine if you were granted astronaut wings, which is why we have X-15 pilots designated as astronauts who never set foot in a NASA vehicle.

Larry J wrote:

I specifically mentioned operationally responsive space in my post. This vehicle isn't suited for that any more than it could evolve into a SSTO vehicle. It might be possible to eventually evolve it into a two stage to orbit design by carrying a larger version to a high altitude on a White Knight style aircraft. Even then, it wouldn't have much of a payload to orbit. There's simply too much dead weight.

It'd be better to simply carry an unmanned expendable or partially reusable vehicle to altitude an launch it like a Pegasus. I've heard rumors that Scaled is considering small satellite launches from White Knight 2 but have not seen anything definite yet.

Al wrote:

Any thoughts on the effective range? If it is turning the rocket off for decent, can it be certified as a 'glider' and land at non-spaceports? Or am I vastly over-estimating how far you can glide?

Larry J wrote:

I doubt the gliding range would be all that great when following the altitude flight profile. My SWAG is maybe 100-200 miles at most. If you want range, I'd climb the thing at reduced power up to an altitude of 60-80k feet, accelerate to the red line airspeed, and burn the engines for as long as possible. It has 4 engines like the old X-1 and you can turn them on and off independently. Running for max speed or below and for max duration followed by a glide would probably get you much further horizontally than the altitude profile. Your guess is as good as mine as to how far that might be. I speculate that it might be able to go a few hundred miles at best. Those rocket engines are very thirsty and will burn all of the propellant within minutes even at reduced power. You'll burn a substancial percentage of the propellant just getting it off the ground (~25-33% based on previous rocket planes that I'm aware of).

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on March 26, 2008 5:32 AM.

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