XCOR Lynx main engine test

Test of the XCOR Lynx main engine. Photo: XCOR Aerospace.

The Lynx, a two seat rocket-powered airplane under development by XCOR Aerospace, is on track to start flight testing this summer, company executives tell me.

If all goes as planned, that will make two rocket planes blasting out of the Mojave Air and Space Port this year. Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo is also prepping for its first powered flights.

In a Popular Mechanics article last summer, I compared Lynx to a space Corvette vs. SpaceShipTwo’s minivan. Smaller, quicker off the line, with more efficient engines, Lynx is designed to take off right from the runway to get to suborbital space, without needing a carrier aircraft to get it up to altitude first. Lynx’s engineers hope that plus its easy-to-load all-liquid fuel will allow it to fly up to four times a day.

XCOR COO Andrew Nelson described the experience of those who will pay $95,000 to ride beside the pilot.

“They’re going to be in the cockpit and they’re going to have glass all around them, with a pilot-astronaut to their left. They’re going to experience rapid acceleration on the takeoff. They’re going to accelerate up to Mach 3.5 on the way up. They’re going to experience the view of the Earth from a very high altitude, see the curvature of the Earth, the thin blue mantle of the atmosphere that protects us. They’ll be able to see 900 miles in all directions. It’s going to be a life-changing experience for many people.”

Of the people who are planning to make the trip, XCOR CEO Jeff Greason says,

“More of them than you’d think are well aware that by being an early adopter of spaceflight, they’re helping to bring the day when spaceflight is accessible, closer. There is an emotional satisfaction involved in helping to be one of the first people to make it happen. And it’s much different than as if it were just some kind of a thrill ride. There is meaning to it and I think people actually on an intuitive level get that. That’s part of what motivates them to want to be participants.”

I’ve certainly found that to be true among the prospective space travelers I have spent time with, including the late Reda Anderson. Those first customers are pioneers every bit as much as the engineers and managers behind the new vehicles.