AMU Editor's Pick Original Space

Climbing to the Stars with Today’s Spaceplanes – Part II

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By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Military University

This is the second article in a four-part series on the history of spaceplanes and modern iterations of spaceplane technology.

The XCOR Aerospace Lynx was a space plane developed by XCOR beginning in 2003 under the original project name “Xerus.” The plan was to build a craft capable of accommodating a pilot and one to two passengers. It was to be powered by four liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket engines. The airframe was reportedly composed of a carbon/cyanate composite with nickel alloy covering the nose and leading wing edges for thermal protection.

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Early design mock-ups for the Lynx indicated that the space plane might even have been capable of carrying a second stage, which theoretically could have detached at the apogee of the flight and then achieved low-Earth orbit under its own power.

Because the space plane had no form of propulsion other than its four rocket engines, it would land on a runway. Then, the pilot would ignite the engines and guide the plane to an altitude of about 42 km (26 mi) and a speed of Mach 2; the engines would be shut down and the plane would continue climbing in glider fashion to an altitude near the Kármán line.

According to XCOR, the total trip would take approximately 30 minutes and passengers would experience about four minutes of weightlessness at the apogee. On re-entry the craft would pull approximately four Gs, which — while far less than the stresses of orbital rocket vehicles — would still be taxing on non-astronauts. The estimated cost of the final Lynx designs were between

Unfortunately, XCOR abandoned plans for the Lynx in 2016 to focus on other projects, including rocket engines it was developing for a United Launch Alliance vehicle. In 2017, XCOR went into bankruptcy and its assets were purchased by a company that has no plans to resume the Lynx project. Although this space plane obviously never came into being, it was an exciting look at some of the evolution in conceptual technology since the earliest days of spacecraft aviation.

In the next part of this article, we will look at the Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo spaceplane.

About the Author

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Military University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Military University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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