Thursday night SpaceUp Houston hosted a Commercial Spaceflight Panel featuring representatives of a number of orbital and suborbital spaceflight companies. The four companies working on orbital systems—ATK, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX—largely provided reviews of their recent work under funded or unfunded Commercial Crew Development agreements with NASA that have generally been reported elsewhere. The two suborbital companies, Armadillo and XCOR, did provide a little bit of news on their vehicle developments, however.
Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace said the company was continuing work on its latest suborbital rocket, STIG-B, a scaled-up version (“we opted to supersize it,” explained Milburn) of the STIG-A rocket it launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico late last year and in January of this year. While Armadillo previously said they planned to launch STIG-B as early as this May, Milburn said they’re now planning on a launch from Spaceport America in late July or early August.
They’re also working on getting their FAA launch license, which they’ll need for STIG-B. (They’re generating revenue from these flights from payloads from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, making them ineligible for an experimental permit.) “It’s our first attempt at a license,” he said, a process that appears to be going smoothly. “We’ve got FAA on track for breaking their world record for issuing a license.” That license, he said, should be in place to support a late July launch attempt.
Khaki McKee of XCOR Aerospace discussed the status of Lynx development, running through a long list of components that are in various stages of fabrication. The Lynx’s aerodynamic design is “almost finished,” she said, with one more round of supersonic wind tunnel tests planned at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (similar to what the company indicated back in April.) The fuselage for the first Lynx vehicle is now in the shop, she said, and other components are out for bid or under work with vendors.
McKee also hinted that some more major news will be forthcoming from the company in coming months. “In the next couple of months we’re going to be making some very major announcements,” she said, adding that some of them will be “kind of breathtaking.”