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Planned spacecraft could mean hiring boost at Kennedy Space Center
The Lynx suborbital vehicle is capable of multiple missions and can carry two passengers. It’s usable for suborbital research and space tourism. The Lynx is being fabricated at XCOR Aerospace’s headquarters in Mojave, Calif. / USA Today / XCOR Aerospace
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Kennedy Space Center’s goal to become a more commercial spaceport received a boost Thursday with XCOR Aerospace’s announcement that it planned to test, fly and eventually build suborbital spacecraft here.
The Mojave, Calif.-based company’s two-seater Lynx space plane could start taking off and landing at the shuttle runway in 2014, with a next-generation version flying customers regularly the following year.
XCOR estimates it could hire more than 150 people locally by 2018, and executives said the area’s skilled former shuttle workforce was key to their decision to base a manufacturing site at Cape Canaveral.
“Thanks to NASA’s long history here, there was just the right group of people here with exactly the right skills we need,” Jeff Greason, XCOR’s president and co-founder, said during an announcement at the KSC Visitor Complex.
State and local agencies have offered the company $2.7 million in incentives, according to Space Florida President Frank DiBello. Space Florida also will offer financing that could help build a hangar and manufacturing facility near Kennedy Space Center’s 3-mile runway, though no agreements are final yet.
DiBello said XCOR’s rocket engines and spacecraft could “revolutionize and drive down the cost of spaceflight, first to the edge of space and even into orbit.”
“They’re talking several flights a day, so that’s a change in the paradigm from the way we think about spaceflight now,” he said. “It opens up the door for adventure tourism, and it opens up the door for repeatable, reliable spaceflight for research and other purposes.”
Tickets to ride in the Lynx’s right seat, next to the pilot, cost about $100,000, or about half what Virgin Galactic is charging for a seat on its suborbital SpaceShipTwo.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday toured sites at KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to promote progress on commercial initiatives.
Standing before a Falcon 9 rocket inside SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 hangar, he announced that NASA had given its blessing for the company to begin commercial deliveries of cargo to the International Space Station as soon as October, following a successful demonstration flight in May.
The Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V, could by 2017 be launching astronauts to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
And renovation is expected to begin next week on a former shuttle hangar to accommodate assembly and flights of the Boeing Co.’s commercial crew capsule.
Bolden said the addition of XCOR would offer people who have never had access to space a chance to get there.
“Up until now, Kennedy and Cape Canaveral have been known for launching rockets that carry satellites and NASA people,” he said. “We want the Space Coast to be known as the place where anybody who wants to launch in America — a person — comes here.”
XCOR, founded in 1999, is designing and testing the prototype Lynx Mark I, a 30-foot-long, winged space plane that will be able to rocket up to 200,000 feet.
Starting in mid- to late-2014, it could begin test flight operations at Kennedy Space Center and possibly Jacksonville’s Cecil Field spaceport.
An upgraded Lynx Mark II, capable of flying to 350,000 feet and providing about five minutes in microgravity, would follow within a year to fly space tourists, researchers or science experiments. Another planned upgrade could allow deployment of small satellites.