Weekly Space Hangout – June 12, 2015: Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guest: This week we welcome Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program Participants:
Michael Prokosch (Seeing Stars Blog, MikeProkosch@shsuobservatory)
Tim Spuck ([email protected])
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein / briankoberlein.com)
Vivian White ([email protected]).

Jolene Creighton (@jolene723 / fromquarkstoquasars.com)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein / briankoberlein.com)
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Alessondra Springmann (@sondy)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – June 12, 2015: Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program”

Here’s What It Looks Like To Build The Lynx Spacecraft

XCOR engineer Brandon Litt inspects a Lynx wing spar. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

EDIT Oct. 8, 12:14 p.m. EDT: This article has been amended at XCOR’s request to remove a reference to a specific deal.

Ready, set … launch? That’s what XCOR is hoping to accomplish as the company continues building its Lynx spacecraft prototype.

The company announced this week that it has mated the cockpit to the fuselage on the prototype — which they classify as a major milestone in construction. Check out pictures of the team at work below.

“The team at XCOR has been working a long time to reach this goal,” stated XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “We always knew there would be a day when we could see a spacecraft forming in our hangar. Today is that day. These pictures show our ongoing journey to make commercial space flight a reality.”

The company is also testing Lynx’s propulsion system and is starting to bond other components together to the spacecraft prototype, such as the landing gear.

The company plans to start tests on the Lynx Mark I prototype in 2015, with the Mark II (the production version) starting flights at a yet-to-be-announced date. XCOR’s major competitor in space tourism is Virgin Galactic, which has done several powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo and is also hoping to start test flights shortly.

View of the Lynx cockpit, fuselage and strakes. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee
View of the Lynx cockpit, fuselage and strakes. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

Ray Fitting, an XCOR shop technician, with a liquid oxygen pump for the Lynx spacecraft. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee
Ray Fitting, an XCOR shop technician, with a liquid oxygen pump for the Lynx spacecraft. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

View of the Lynx cockpit, fuselage and strakes. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee
View of the Lynx cockpit, fuselage and strakes. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

XCOR engineer Mark Street signing off on the Lynx cockpit structure before the structure is mated with the fuselage. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee
XCOR engineer Mark Street signing off on the Lynx cockpit structure before the structure is mated with the fuselage. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

XCOR engineer Mark Street inspecting the Lynx cockpit. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee
XCOR engineer Mark Street inspecting the Lynx cockpit. Credit: XCOR Aerospace / Mike Massee

Wanna Trip To Space? To Raise Money, Mars One Is Offering A Lynx Joyride

XCOR Aerospace's Lynx suborbital vehicle is designed to fly to 328,000 feet (Credit: XCOR)

Private trips to space are pricey, but from time to time contests come up that offer even those of modest means the chance to get there.

Take Mars One’s latest publicity campaign, which is to offer a chance for a trip upon the (so-far-unflown-in-space) Lynx spacecraft in exchange for donating to the organization, which plans to launch a one-way human trip to Mars in the next decade.

“The campaign will provide funding for a 2015 Earth mission, which is a simulation project to replicate the future Mars human settlement here on Earth, as well as the 2018 Mars mission to Mars,” Mars One stated.

The campaign, called “Ticket To Rise“, is essentially a fundraising campaign for Mars One. The group is selling memberships, selfies of photographs with Mars in the background (during a 2018 mission), T-shirts and at the high end, coins or attendance at VIP events.

Artist's conception of Mars One human settlement. Credit: Mars One/Brian Versteeg
Artist’s conception of Mars One human settlement. Credit: Mars One/Brian Versteeg

The Mars One plan to bring people to the planet has generated lots of publicity among the media, amid skepticism that the funding and technology could be available to bring people to the Red Planet starting in 2024. The organization began whittling down applicants this year and as of May, said there are now 705 “potential Mars settlers” remaining.

If successful, Mars One hopes to bring settlers to the Red Planet every two years, four people at a time, and leave them there to establish a colony. The organization says there are “no new technology developments” needed to get people to Mars, and that it has gone to “major aerospace companies around the world” to figure out what needs to be done.

The XCOR Lynx spacecraft is one of a small number of vehicles competing for the chance to bring wealthy people into space. From time to time, the company has partnered with other entities (such as men’s grooming company AXE) to run contests to drum up interest in their product, which so far is unflown in space.

Support a Good Cause To Win a Trip To Space

XCOR Aerospace's Lynx suborbital vehicle is designed to fly to 328,000 feet (Credit: XCOR)

Well, technically not space*, but suborbital, and that’d still be way cool! And what’s even cooler is that you can enter to win a trip on an XCOR Lynx Mark II suborbital flight while helping to support a good cause of your choice, courtesy of The Urgency Network’s “Ticket to Rise” campaign. Check out the dramatic spaceflight-packed promotional video and find out how to enter below:

The Urgency Network is an online platform whereby participants can win experience-based prizes by participating in campaigns that are designed to aid and support good causes, many of which assist specific communities in need, awareness groups, and conservation efforts. You earn “entries” for prize drawings by purchasing gift packages from the participating foundations or by donating time, social media presence, or money directly. It’s a way for organizations that might not have (or be able to afford) a large PR department to get funded and gain widespread exposure. Learn more about The Urgency Network here.

In the Ticket to Rise campaign, the grand prize is beyond stratospheric — literally! One lucky winner will experience a ride aboard an XCOR Lynx Mark II suborbital craft, a single-stage space vehicle that takes off from a runway to ultimately coast briefly at a maximum altitude of 328,000 feet (about 100 km), experiencing 4 minutes of microgravity before re-entry and a runway landing. It’s a supersonic 30-minute flight to the very edge of space!

(*Actually, 100 km is right at the von Karman line, so riding the Lynx Mark II past that could qualify you as an astronaut. Just sayin’.)

How a Lynx Mark II flight works (Source: XCOR)
How a Lynx Mark II flight works (Source: XCOR)

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 12.53.52 PMAdd to that you’d be helping any one of dozens of good causes (you can choose from different ones by clicking the “Select a Different NonProfit” text link on the donation page) and it’s a win-win for everyone. And even if you don’t get a seat aboard a spaceship (many will enter, few will win) you can still get some pretty awesome promo offers from the organizations as bulk-entry packages.

Click here to sign up and enter the Ticket to Rise campaign.

The deadline to enter the campaign is 11:59:59 p.m. EDT August 11, 2014. Drawing will be held on August 12. The Lynx flight is dependent on meeting all requirements and passing physical exams and tests by XCOR Aerospace, and although the date is expected to be in the fall of 2015, this is rocket science and things change. Read the official contest rules for all details, fine print, etc.

XCOR to Move Operations Near Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center is getting a new neighbor: XCOR Aerospace announced they intend to establish an operational base in Florida, and also hope to build a manufacturing and assembly center for the XCOR Lynx Mark II suborbital reusable launch vehicles.

“Looking over the KSC Visitor Complex grounds and seeing the history of U.S. human spaceflight and realizing that soon XCOR will be a part of the fabric of the Space Coast is very exciting to me personally and our company” said Jeff Greason, XCOR CEO. “When we started the company back in 1999, we could only have dreamt about the possibility of flying the person on the street or the citizen scientist to space from such an important place.”

KSC and NASA officials — as well as local officials dealing with the job losses from the end of the shuttle program — were thrilled with the news. XCOR’s new operations in Florida could bring new work for highly skilled former space shuttle employees.

“The next era in space exploration is under way, and the Space Coast of Florida is ground zero in the Obama administration’s effort to launch Americans from U.S. soil and create good jobs that support an economy built to last,” said NASA Chief of Staff David Radzanowski. “The region continues to be a key strategic location for companies, like XCOR, who want to build on our nation’s great legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

“We look forward to discussing with XCOR Aerospace and other space companies how Kennedy’s unique capabilities may be made available for use,” said Kennedy’s Center Director Bob Cabana. “This is further evidence that the Space Coast is preparing for the next era of space exploration.”

XCOR made the announcement in Florida, with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as a backdrop.

The company hopes to fly the Lynx suborbital vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, the Cecil Field Spaceport, or other suitable Florida locations by 2014. And if all goes well, they will also start building facilities to produce parts for the Lynx Mark II models and eventually production of Lynx vehicles and other XCOR products, “should market demand materialize and the emerging commercial space industry maintain its current momentum,” XCOR said in a press release.

They estimate direct job creation through late 2018 at just over 150.

“As chair of Space Florida, this is the type of investment the Space Florida Board has been working on to attract high-tech, high-wage jobs to Florida,” said Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll. “We are very pleased to welcome XCOR to Florida as a prime example of how utilizing Florida’s existing infrastructure and leveraging our talented workforce capabilities can attract new and growing business to our state.”

NASA said they are working with XCOR and other commercial space companies so that KSC could be host to many kinds of spacecraft and rockets in the future.

“Negotiations are taking place with other commercial users for Orbiter Processing Facility Bays 1 and 2, as well as with potential commercial users of the Launch Complex 39 launch pads,” NASA said in a statement. “These and other partnerships will cement Kennedy as a true multiuser spaceport as envisioned by our nation’s leadership.”

Lead image: XCOR’s Lynx suborbital vehicle. Credit: XCOR

On The Hunt For High-Altitude Microorganisms

Design of an XCOR Lynx spacecraft (XCOR Aerospace)


The United States Rocket Academy has announced an open call for entries in its High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge, a citizen science project that will attempt to collect samples of microbes that may be lurking in Earth’s atmosphere at the edge of space.

Earth’s biosphere has been discovered to extend much higher than once thought — up to 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) above the planet’s surface. Any microorganisms present at these high altitudes could be subject to the mutating effects of increased radiation and transported around the globe in a sort of pathogenic jet-stream.

What sort of microbes may exist at the upper reaches of the atmosphere?

Citizens in Space, a project run by the U.S. Rocket Academy, is offering a $10,000 prize for the development of an open-source and replicable  collection device that could successfully retrieve samples of high-altitude microorganisms, and could fly as a payload aboard an XCOR Lynx spacecraft.

XCOR Aerospace is a private California-based company that has developed the Lynx, a reusable launch vehicle that has suborbital flight capabilities. Low-speed test flights are expected to commence later this year, with incremental testing to take place over the following months.

Any proposed microbe collection devices would have to fit within the parameters of the Lynx’s 2kg Aft Cowling Port payload capabilities — preferably a 10 x 10 x 20 cm CubeSat volume — and provide solutions for either its retraction (in the case of extended components) or retrieval (in the case of ejected hardware.)

The contest is open to any US resident or non-government team or organization, and submissions are due by February 13, 2013. The chosen design will fly on 10 contracted Lynx flights in late 2013 or early 2014, and possibly even future missions.

Find out more about the challenge on the Citizens in Space site here, and check out an animation of the XCOR Lynx spacecraft below:

XCOR Lynx Slated to Fly New Suborbital Telescope

Artist rendering of the XCOR Lynx outfitted with the Atsa Suborbital Observatory. Credit: XCOR


Commercial space company XCOR Aerospace has signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the Planetary Science Institute, laying the groundwork for flying a human-operated telescope on board XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. The Atsa Suborbital Observatory is a specially designed telescope for use in suborbital space vehicles, and when used with commercial suborbital vehicles, PSI says it will provide low-cost space-based observations above the contaminating atmosphere of Earth, while avoiding some operational constraints of satellite telescope systems.

“The XCOR vehicle design and capabilities work well for hosting the kind of observing facility we are developing,” said PSI Senior Scientist Faith Vilas, the Atsa Project Scientist.

“NASA has been flying suborbital observatories for decades, on unmanned, disposable rockets. The new manned, reusable commercial platforms will allow us to make repeated observations with a single instrument, but without the need to refurbish it between flights,” said Luke Sollitt, and affiliate scientist with PSI and a co-inventor with Vilas of the Atsa Observatory. “In addition, the short turn-around means we can do many observations or targets.”

Atsa means “eagle” in the Navajo language. The facility is optimized for observing solar system objects near the sun that are difficult to study from orbital observatories such as Hubble and ground-based telescopes.

The Lynx flight profile. Credit: XCOR

The Lynx is a two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle, capable of taking 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, providing 4-6 minutes of weightless flight.

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.

The Atsa Observatory will be mounted on the top of the Lynx in an experiment pod. XCOR or PSI did not release the cost per flight, but XCOR’s price for one passenger is $95,000 USD. In contrast, the price for using sounding rockets vary, depending on how high the rocket goes, but some cost as little as $10,000 USD.

“These are natural targets for instruments on suborbital rockets to observe, but a human-tended facility using the kind of reusable launch vehicle offered by XCOR offers significant cost savings,” said Mark Sykes, CEO and Director of PSI, who is also a long-time planetary astronomer and is training to be an Atsa operator.

The Lynx spacecraft will fly to space on a customized flight trajectory and will be capable of precision pointing, allowing the Atsa system with its operator to acquire the desired target and make the planned observations. “We are being approached by many potential customers who are interested in supporting observations of the inner solar system,” Vilas said. “We will also be able to support target of opportunity observations for newly discovered objects and other phenomena.”

“We’re looking forward to flying PSI’s Atsa system on Lynx, it will be a groundbreaking experience. The rapid and flexible operations of the Lynx will enable scientists to pick specific targets of interest and the same day fly multiple tailor made observation missions quickly and inexpensively when they want them to be flown,” said Khaki Rodway McKee, XCOR’s Program Manager.

“We are entering into a new era in the human exploration of space, where private companies like XCOR and PSI will begin to play leading roles in certain areas, beginning with suborbital flight – harkening back to the days of NASA’s Mercury program,” Sykes said.

Andrew Nelson, XCOR’s Chief Operating Officer, said, “Much like the early days of the Internet, mobile communications and social networking revolutions saw new and innovative applications drive commercial multi-billion dollar marketplaces, so we are seeing privately funded efforts like PSI’s Atsa as a key early adopter signaling a robust future for suborbital reusable launch vehicles.”

Source: PSI