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XCOR makes progress in construction of Lynx spaceplane

Jenny Winder, News Writer
Dec 20, 2014, 4:02 UTC

Sen—XCOR Aerospace, one of the major challengers in space tourism, continues to make rapid progress towards final assembly of its Lynx suborbital spacecraft.

The Lynx is the only fully reusable suborbital spacecraft in production, designed for fast turnaround (two hours), low maintenance and low cost operations. (With Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo the rocket motor’s fuel and oxidizer must be replenished after each flight.)

The two-seat, liquid-rocket-powered spacecraft takes off and lands horizontally. It will carry a professional pilot and a space tourist on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 ft) before returning safely to the takeoff runway. The aircraft-like capabilities allow for up to four flights per day.

Lynx can carry in-cockpit experiments and externally mounted experiments. It can also be used for test pilot and astronaut training, upper atmospheric sampling, microsatellite launch and ballistic trajectory research.


Lynx flight profile. Image credit: 2014 XCOR Aerospace, Inc.

Just before Thanksgiving, the cockpit was bonded to the fuselage of the first Lynx being assembled. The technicians then set up for the delicate and precise operation of bonding the carry-through spar on to the rear end of the Lynx fuselage. 

"The carry-through spar is the heart of the loading structure on any winged craft—it supports the primary load of the wings and carries that load through the fuselage," said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason in a statement. "Attaching the spar on a composite vehicle is a one-way operation, so it has to be done right the first time.

"We're really excited to have achieved this step. It paves the way for the strakes to be attached as the next step. Thanks to the hard work of the composites crew, we're proceeding at a very rapid pace toward first flight."

The Lynx rocket truss was placed on the vehicle itself for the first time. After a lot of prep work for both the fuselage and the spar, composites technicians spent several days carefully aligning the spar to ensure perfect symmetry and then began to bond it in place.  

After the spar was installed, the entire structure was load-tested to the equivalent of 6G re-entry, while the cabin was pressurized to 11 PSI, the first pressure test after being bonded to the fuselage

"This was our Thanksgiving present," said XCOR composites shop manager Jeff Smith. "We applied the final glue layers on Wednesday just before the holiday, and removed the support equipment over the weekend. We're looking forward to the next big step, integration of the wing strakes onto the Lynx." 

The Lynx Mark I is designed as a prototype vehicle to characterize and flight test the various sub-systems, including life support, propulsion, tanks, structure, aeroshell, aerodynamics, re-entry heating and other design elements. It will undergo a flight test program beginning in 2015. 

Lynx Cutaway View. Image credit: 2014 XCOR Aerospace, Inc.