Xcor Aerospace's push to launch a commercial suborbital flight service from Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles is to get a boost from KLM. The carrier has agreed to promote and sell tickets for the 30min rides to space and back, which are scheduled to begin in January 2014.
KLM's support will include purchases, inclusion in its frequent-flyer programme, inclusion in future KLM vacation packages to Curaçao, and other yet-to-be-named arrangements.
Mojave-based Xcor is developing a rocket-powered spaceplane, called Lynx, capable of runway lift-off and landing, with launch power from "non-toxic", reusable rocket engines. The vehicle is being designed for wet-lease operations, to carry to altitudes in excess of 100km (62 miles) a pilot, one passenger, and engineering and scientific payloads. Xcor intends Lynx to be able to fly up to four times a day with "minimal" between-flight maintenance.
As such, Xcor's concept is radically different than that of its better-known rival at Mojave, Virgin Galactic. The Virgin Group effort to open a space tourism business is developing a much larger spacecraft, capable of carrying six passengers, which must be carried aloft by a twin-fuselage "mothership" aircraft which drops it at 50,000ft (15,250m), where rocket engines kick in for the ascent to suborbital space.
The company's agreement with Space Experience Curaçao, signed in October, followed a similar wet-lease deal signed in 2009 with Yecheon Astro Space Center in South Korea.
Xcor says development of the reusable rocket engine systems is proceeding well, and it expects to make a test flight in 2011. However, the company admits that tension on the Korean peninsula has restricted the flow of development funding from Yechon. Xcor envisages operating the Korean and Curaçao services with production models of the Lynx MkII, which will follow the test vehicle being built.
Xcor has been testing a "workhorse" engine to qualify parts and design and will in December begin static tests of the flight engine, which matches the configuration and weight of the four engines that will be attached to the airframe.
Other current development work includes rocket propellant piston pumps and a number of composites programmes allied to airframe development. Final rounds of supersonic windtunnel testing will come in the next few months, following modifications to the existing scale model.