XCOR Picks Texas for New Research and Development Site

by

NEW YORK — XCOR Aerospace, a private company designing a reusable suborbital spaceplane, will open a new test facility in Texas, company officials announced July 9.

The Mojave, Calif.-based company and the Midland Development Corp. unveiled plans for XCOR’s new Commercial Space Research and Development Center Headquarters in Midland, Texas. The research facility will be used to test XCOR’s Lynx spaceplane, a reusable, winged spaceship that is designed to carry two passengers and science experiments to the edge of space.

The company also plans to eventually develop and test components for an orbital version of the Lynx vehicle in Midland, company officials said.

“We are pleased to be establishing our R&D Center in Midland, Texas, where the weather, surrounding landscape, the airport, and the local & state government environment are ideally situated for the future growth and the ultimate realization of a fully reusable orbital system,” Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer of XCOR Aerospace, said in a statement. “With future suborbital operational sites on the East and West Coasts of the United States and around the world, plus a manufacturing and test facility geographically separate from our R&D facility, Midland will truly be at the heart of XCOR’s innovation engine.”

Local government officials applauded XCOR’s decision to establish an aerospace foothold in the state.

“This is a great day for Midland and a huge step forward for the state of Texas,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. “Visionary companies, like XCOR, continue to choose Texas because they know that innovation is fueled by freedom. Whether on the cutting edge of biotech, communications, commerce or privatized efforts to serve the needs of the next generation of space explorers, you can find Texas at the forefront of the movement.”

The new research and development (R&D) headquarters will be established in a newly renovated 5,500-square-meter hangar at the Midland International Airport (MAF). Construction of the office space and test facility will begin early next year, company officials said, and is expected to be complete by late fall in 2013.

“XCOR will be upgrading an existing hangar at Midland International Airport,” Marv Esterly, director of airports at MAF, said in a statement. “This new R&D facility has the potential to open the door to even more economic development at our airport and for our community.”

The city of Midland is also applying to the Federal Aviation Administration for Midland International Airport to be certified as a commercial space launch site, representatives from the Midland Development Corp. said.

The application process will likely last 12 to 18 months, but once licenses have been approved, and the airport hangar is fully renovated, XCOR is expected to boost its activities in Texas.

XCOR recently announced it is aiming to begin operational Lynx flights from California’s Mojave Spaceport in 2013, and flights from the tiny Caribbean island of Curacao the following year.

XCOR is not the only private rocket company that has expressed interest in building new facilities in Texas. Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the private aerospace firm that successfully launched the first commercially built, unmanned spacecraft to the international space station, has proposed building a launch facility in Cameron County in southern Texas for orbital and suborbital vehicles.

But not everybody is making a beeline for Texas. Rocket Crafter Inc., an Eden, Utah-based startup specializing in hybrid rocket motors, announced July 10 that it will be relocating to Titusville, Fla., by the end of this year. The company considered relocating to other states, including Texas, before settling on Florida.

At a press conference hosted by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, Rocket Crafters officials said the company will initially set up shop in temporary facilities at the Space Coast Regional Airport and begin building permanent facilities in the area by 2014.

“This is great news for the Space Coast,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a statement. “Moves like this will continue to bolster the commercial aerospace industry in Florida.”

Rocket Crafters, which was founded in 2010 to develop hybrid rocket motors and other aerospace products for the commercial space, military rocket and guided missile markets, plans to design, test and manufacture rocket propulsion products including boosters and propulsion mechanisms in Titusville, according to a press release issued by Nelson’s office.