At the commencement of the 2011 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) being held in Orlando, Florida, XCOR Aerospace announced its initial team of suborbital payload integration specialists who will begin taking orders and facilitating experiment development and integration for commercial, educational and government suborbital research missions aboard XCOR's Lynx reusable suborbital launch vehicle. Capable of up to four flights per day, the Lynx is expected to provide three to four minutes of micro-gravity and/or exposure to the harsh environment of space and the opportunity to investigate largely unknown regions of our upper atmosphere critical to environmental studies.
These pioneering payload integrators represent both large, established companies and start-up space entities run by seasoned executives and fresh new entrepreneurs from places like Asia, Europe, North America, and South Africa. XCOR will be adding additional specialist firms to the network in the coming months.
The first group of XCOR Lynx payload integration specialist firms include the following (in alphabetical order): the African Space Institute of Durban, South Africa; Cosmica Spacelines of Toulouse, France; NanoRacks of Lexington, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.; the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado; Space Chariots in Oxon, England; Space Experience Curacao of the Netherlands and the Caribbean island of Curacao; Spaceflight Services in Tukwila, Washington, Valencia, California, and Huntsville, Alabama; and Yecheon Astro Space Center, Yecheon, South Korea.
"This is a win-win for all of us," said Jeff Greason, XCOR CEO. "XCOR will focus on what we do best, which is build and operate rocket powered vehicles, while our payload integration specialists will do what they do best, which is work closely with scientists and researchers and use their collective expertise to prepare payload missions to do real work in space."
Dr. Alan Stern, Associate Vice President at SwRI, the former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and the Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation's Suborbital Researchers Group, noted "We are extremely excited about the capabilities that Lynx will bring to our many research clients at SwRI, so much so that we've already procured six flights for our own pathfinder and discovery missions to better understand how we can best serve our clients. As a trained researcher and test engineer, I can't wait to fly with my experiments on Lynx and ring out the processes and procedures that will help our clients succeed, and help our Institute stay at the forefront of the 21st century."
Each of the announced entities has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or contractual relationship with XCOR Aerospace creating a robust initial network of sales and payload integration specialist firms for the science, engineering, and education missions that will be flown on XCOR's Lynx suborbital reusable launch vehicle. Some see Lynx as a strong compliment to their existing business models or as a tool to develop critical national science and education capabilities or inspire new ways of thinking and execution of space based research.
Jeff Manber, a seasoned space executive who runs NanoRacks, LLC, already has research platforms on the International Space Station (ISS) being used for commercial and educational research in the CubeSat form factor. Jeff noted "Having over 50 payloads from multiple nations already booked for the U.S. National Lab, we expect XCOR's platform to be a solid first step for many of our customers to validate experiments that will go on to the Space Station. The ability to fly, test, learn, then adjust payloads on the ground and re-fly is extremely useful when perfecting a payload. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand XCOR's value proposition."
Brad Inggs, Founder and President of the African Space Institute noted "In South Africa, we are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to build up the emerging commercial space industry and provide related educational opportunities to our community, so being a payload integrator for the XCOR Lynx platform not only offers a leap forward allowing affordable access to space for African payloads but also allows us to further generate local skills and jobs in the region."
Garrett Smith, Founder and President of Cosmica Spacelines of Toulouse, France equates the partnership with XCOR as a cornerstone for greater ventures into space and touches on the enabling aspects of XCOR's Lynx. He notes, "Through building a strong community of not only individual enthusiasts but corporate futurists, Cosmica Visionaries will lead Europe and the world towards a progressive future. XCOR will provide us with the capability to offer safe, reliable travel to the edge of space and beyond for the good of humanity."
The XCOR payload integration specialist firms will support a variety of scientific, educational and engineering objectives including: atmospheric science, physics, microgravity research, planetary science, earth observation, life sciences, education and public outreach, and many others. Some firms such as NanoRacks already have capabilities on orbit at the ISS and will use Lynx as a qualification platform, others are teamed with launch services providers who have other on orbit resources like new commercial cargo and crew systems who will be using Lynx for pre-cursor missions.
Jason Andrews, President of Andrews Space and Spaceflight Services commented, "We are working with experimenters and scientists who will be using the SpaceX unpressurized Dragon Lab capsule for standalone on-orbit research and transport of experiments to the ISS, so having the ability to test in the vacuum of space with XCOR's Lynx platform prior to sending something up on a Falcon 9 is a very powerful tool for our customers."
General Ben Droste (retired) is the former Chief of Staff for the Netherlands Air Force, lead the pre-curser to the Netherlands Space Office (the NASA equivalent), and is the current Chief Executive Officer of Netherlands-based Space Experience Curacao. General Droste noted, "The Netherlands has a long history of pioneering ventures in general and in particular with micro-gravity research and atmospheric studies, so as we prepare to take on our own wet lease of a Lynx vehicle for flights in Curacao, we will also be laying the groundwork and seeding the market for future suborbital research funded by private industry, government and groups like the European Space Agency (ESA)."
Each payload integration specialist firm will help facilitate and provision flight services on the Lynx by ensuring end users understand the packaging, environmental, safety, operational flight profile(s) and interface (physical, electrical and data) requirements of the Lynx for both automated experiments not requiring user intervention during flight, and those experiments when the scientist accompanies the payload to the edge of space. The integrators will provide a variety of additional value added services depending on their individual service offering and customer needs, including, but not limited to fabrication, test and qualification of experiments for the Lynx environment.
XCOR will be responsible for: (1) developing and periodically updating the Lynx interface control document, payload user's guide and other payload related processes and procedures in consultation with the payload integration specialists, end customers and regulators; (2) operating an annual Lynx payload user's group conference to solicit feedback and promulgate best practices across the payload integrators network and user community; (3) addressing any specific non-standard needs identified by payload integration specialists and their customers such as special flight trajectories or unique vehicle integration needs; (4) any special licensing or regulatory actions pertaining to the flight; and (5) with the integration specialist and customer, performing a final safety and pre-flight review meeting before the mission is flown and a de-briefing of the mission after flight.
Dr. Jae-Song Jo, Director of the Yecheon Astro Space Center noted, "We are impressed with the professionalism and excellent processes we've seen from XCOR and know that clients who demand precision and responsiveness will be well served. As we prepare for our own wet lease operations in the future, the early experience we gain by bringing South Korean and Asian science experiments to the US will only enhance that level of professionalism and establish us as a premier operator in Asia."
On flight day, XCOR will receive payloads from the integration specialist (and/or customer), place it into one of the four cargo carrying locations on the Lynx, fly the payload on the mutually agreed upon trajectory, and return the payload to the researcher or payload integrator (as directed) within minutes of touchdown. From temporary airport-side storage or labs all the way to space and back to a runway-side lab is projected take under 30 minutes on a nominal flight with Lynx - a step function improvement over any capability available today and a strong compliment to other available systems.
Ray Bainbridge, CEO of UK-based Space Chariots, noted the synergies he sees between Lynx and terrestrial reduced gravity (drop tower and aircraft parabolic flights) and sounding rocket research when he said, "we offer low cost design, manufacture and reduced gravity test facilities as well as sounding rocket launches for academic research and the emerging private space industry, so having the ability to use Lynx as our suborbital reusable vehicle platform provides us with a full range of solutions for our customer requirements."
Depending upon customer needs, the Lynx can carry as small as a 1kg (or smaller) payload as a "ride share" or "secondary payload", and up to a 650kg large "primary" mission payload. Payloads may be carried as ride share or primary payloads in the Lynx pressurized cabin or be exposed to the unpressurized and harsh conditions of space. In the future, small nanosatellites may also be launched from the Lynx vehicle using an expendable upper stage launcher of XCOR design allowing innovative low earth orbit satellite applications, constellations, and the testing of new and advanced technologies to be used on larger satellites and manned flight vehicles.
Andrew Nelson, XCOR's Chief Operating Officer added, "with the lowest cost of operations in the marketplace, ability to fly multiple times daily from sites around the world using our affordable 'wet lease' customer model, and our global reach with these trail blazing space entrepreneurs, Lynx is poised to become the de facto standard in suborbital reusable launch vehicle payloads for scientific, education and engineering purposes, and create high paying technical job clusters not only in the US, but everywhere Lynx operates."