XCOR’s spacecraft, the Lynx, is being built to carry a pilot and a single passenger on a trajectory similar to that of the bigger, eight-seat SpaceShipTwo, built by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic, just down the flightline from XCOR’s hangar at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. Both companies aim to give space adventurers and researchers the experience of weightlessness in a black daytime sky with a view of the curving Earth below. But unlike SpaceShipTwo and its historic predecessor, SpaceShipOne—the first private manned vehicle to reach space—the Lynx will take off directly from a runway under its own rocket power, without the benefit of a carrier aircraft to take it to high altitude before launch.
The Lynx flight profile has never been done—not by others hoping to break into the space tourism business and not by the X-15, a rocketplane developed by the Air Force and NASA that flew to suborbital space in the 1950s and 1960s. The Lynx will follow a different path to space not because the XCOR engineers want to do something no one has done before but because they have a different goal from those of the makers of SpaceShipTwo and the X-15. XCOR’s goal is orbit, and the Lynx is just one step along the way.