The Lynx is XCOR’s entry into the commercial reusable launch vehicle (RLV) market. This two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle will take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then return safely to a landing at the takeoff runway.
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 a runway and return safely. This approach is unique compared to most other RLVs in development, such as conventional vertical rocket launches and air-launched winged rocket vehicles “dropped” at altitude from a jet powered mothership.
The Lynx aircraft-like capabilities allow high tempo operations, up to four (4) flights per day, rapid call-up, fast turnaround between flights, low cost operations and maintenance (O&M), and a focus on safety and reliability.
Lynx has an all-composite airframe that makes it lightweight and strong. With an added thermal protection system (TPS) on the nose and leading edges it is able to handle the heat of re-entry from the edge of space. The wing area is sized for landing at moderate touchdown speeds near 90 knots. Lynx is about 9 meters (~30 feet) in length with a double-delta wing that spans about 7.5 meters (~24 feet).
Using the same concept of operations (CONOPS) as XCOR’s earlier rocket-powered vehicles, we have learned much about how to operate the Lynx, even though it has higher performance than our EZ-Rocket and X-Racer. From the EZ-Rocket we learned how to 1) develop a safe, reliable, and reusable propulsion system and integrate it into an airframe, 2) implement low cost, efficient, and safe operational procedures, and 3) work with the regulatory process. Building the X-Racer enabled us to 1) fly a previously designed and matured piston pump in a high performance rocket plane application, 2) improve low cost operations and safety regime processes, and 3) increase knowledge and skill sets for systems integration (airframe, avionics, and propulsion).
Lynx Development Plan
As with any production aircraft development program, XCOR has planned a Lynx prototype named the “Mark I” and a production model called the “Mark II.” The Mark I is expected to begin flight test in 2012. Flight of the first Mark II will follow approximately nine to eighteen months later depending on the prototype’s advancement through the test program.
XCOR’s development, design, and tests focus on a cycle of vehicle safety, reliability, and low cost operations. Safety comes from reliability, reliability comes from flying frequently, and flying frequently happens with low cost. The more we fly, the safer we’ll be in the long run, and the cycle repeats itself.
Lynx propulsion is four XR-5K18 rocket engines, each producing 12.9 kN (2900 lbf) vacuum thrust with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants. Engine detail design began in autumn of 2008. The first hot fire test was conducted on 15 December 2008 and continues today.
Lynx will operate as an FAA AST-licensed suborbital reusable launch vehicle. XCOR already has successfully passed the AST licensing process with an earlier vehicle concept, and we have been actively involved in the development of the statutory and regulatory framework within which Lynx will operate. Lynx will have aircraft-like operations up to four times per day from any licensed spaceport with a 2,400 meter (7,900 ft) runway, suitable abort options, fast turnaround (two hours), low maintenance intervals (designed for 40 flights before preventive maintenance action), and low cost operations. Lynx operates under visual flight rules (VFR), and initially it will only fly during days of good visibility. Mojave Air and Space Port, the planned first operating location for Lynx, has good visibility 360 days per year and acceptable winds 345 days per year.