The Lynx’s Leap

Can a suborbital spaceship help XCOR reach orbit?

If successful, the Lynx will be the first craft to take off from a runway and fly to space. (XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee)
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At the end of a workday, Greason usually takes a walk, 35 minutes straight out from the flightline to one end of the Mojave Air & Space Port and back. By now, late on an April afternoon, the wind has kicked up to what he estimates to be 30 knots. Leaning into the wind with Greason as we head up the long, deserted street, I feel as if we could stretch out our arms and lift off, rockets or no. In the distance ahead of us looms the new hangar for Stratolaunch, another Paul Allen–Burt Rutan collaboration. (Allen foot the bill for the Rutan-designed SpaceShipOne.) When the Stratolaunch system is ready to roll out of that hangar, XCOR will likely have moved on from Mojave.

The Mark I Lynx will be built here at the spaceport, and, if all goes well, its first test flights flown here. It will even operate revenue flights from here. But sometime in the next year, XCOR will move to the Midland International Airport in western Texas. XCOR’s orbital ship—the reason the company came to be—will be built there.

Greason won’t say much about more about the orbital vehicle than that it is planned as two rocket-powered stages launched from a carrier aircraft. The company has already begun work on its hydrogen fuel rocket engine under contract with United Launch Alliance. At Midland, XCOR will get more hangar space and a friendlier business and regulatory climate. Greason tells me he’s going to miss the place where the company started 14 years ago. We reach the airport boundary, where the turbines of an old airliner shiver and clank. We turn to head back with the wind to the rocket shop.

Michael Belfiore is the author of several books, including Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space (Harper Perennial, 2008) and The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World (Smithsonian Books, 2010).


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