Mojave, California's growing reputation as the Silicon Valley of personal spaceflight heated up last week with Xcor Aerospace's signing of a second wet-lease deal for its Lynx suborbital concept.
Xcor, which like larger rival Virgin Galactic has its test and development facilities at the Mojave Air & Space Port, is from January 2014 to support suborbital space tourism and scientific research flights from Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles.
The memorandum of understanding with Space Experience Curaçao (SXC) follows a late 2009 agreement with Yecheon Astro Space Center in South Korea.
The Curaçao government and airport authority says it has begun investment in spaceport infrastructure. SXC managing partner Ben Droste says: "The combination of the Lynx experience with the beautiful and highly suitable location of the Caribbean island of Curaçao is a winning experience in our book."
© Xcor Aerospace
Xcor recently completed the first round of supersonic wind tunnel testing of its Lynx vehicle, and describes testing of its main rocket engines as "going very well".
Further windtunnel testing will go on this autumn and, running in parallel, is production of components and subsystems such as rocket fuel piston pumps, cockpit, controls and instruments, says Xcor, which says a complete spacecraft is "coming together in the hangar".
The plan originally called for a 2010 test flight. Xcor admits it is behind, but insists it will have "first wheels up on a test flight in 2011".
Funding remains a sticking point, however, with Xcor readily admitting that political tension on the Korean peninsula has slowed the flow of cash from Yecheon. South Korea and Curaçao have signed up for production models of the Lynx Mk. II, which will follow the test article being built now.
Whether Xcor or Virgin Galactic will be the next to reach the limits of Earth's atmosphere from Mojave remains to be seen. Virgin, which in 2004 won the Ansari X Prize for the first private manned spaceflight, says its test programme will run through most of 2011 before commercial operations begin. The company has taken $200,000 deposits from more than 300 would-be astronauts.
The two companies are taking radically different approaches to suborbital flight. Virgin's Space Ship Two is to be carried to 50,000ft (15,250m) by the four-engined, twin-fuselage Mothership Eve before its rocket engines push it outside the atmosphere.
Lynx will take off and land from a runway, relying on its own rocket power to achieve its full altitude of 338,000ft.