From Liberty to Lynx (but not from New York to Tokyo)

XCOR Aerospace announced yesterday that it has issued a contract to ATK for the manufacturing of the wings and control surfaces of XCOR’s Lynx Mark 1 suborbital spaceplane. ATK is best known (in the space industry, at least) for its solid propellant motors, including the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) used to launch the Space Shuttle. A five-segment version of those SRBs will be used initially for the Space Launch System (SLS). ATK had also planned to use those five-segment motors as the first stage of its Liberty launch vehicle, but those plans are in limbo after ATK didn’t win an award in the latest round of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

ATK, though, is also known for its work on aerospace composite structures, and XCOR management had no problem working with them for the Lynx wings. “With this effort we are establishing a model of how smaller NewSpace companies may utilize established government primes as our suppliers,” said XCOR COO Andrew Nelson in the statement announcing the contract. “ATK has demonstrated they are nimble, cost effective and can leverage deep experience from prior larger projects.”

XCOR has been in the news for something else it isn’t doing: point-to-point transportation. XCOR officials reportedly told The Huffington Post that the company was planning to fly vehicles to go from New York to Tokyo in 90 minutes, albeit only within the next 20 years. (That report appeared to be based in part on a piece in September by Gadling, which in turn appears to be based on an article by Business Insider.)

There’s just one problem: XCOR isn’t planning on doing point-to-point passenger flight any time in the foreseeable future. Jim Muncy, representing XCOR at the SpaceVision 2012 conference in Buffalo, New York, last week, said it didn’t appear to be as profitable a market as orbital activities. “XCOR has no plans whatsoever to do point-to-point transportation,” he said. The energy requirements of such flights are roughly the same as doing orbital flights, he explained, which are more lucrative than passenger flights. “You make a lot more money flying to orbit than you do flying from Europe to Shanghai. We would prefer to be in the profitable industry of flying people to orbit.”

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