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Suborbital Spotlight: Masten’s Xaero and Xogdor Vehicles

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 22, 2010
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The Xaero vehicle during assembly November 2010. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Masten Space Systems’ Xaero and Xogdor vehicles. The Mojave, Calif.-based company is expected to make its first Xaero test flight for NASA’s Commercial Reusable Commercial Research (CRuSR) program in January and to begin commercial operations sometime later in the year.


Xaero is a reconfiguration from the Xoie platform that won Level II of the Lunar Lander Challenge. The company expects Xaero to begin higher altitude and higher speed flights in the fourth quarter of 2010. Xaero is expected to be able to carry a 10 kg payload to approximately 30 kilometers (or 100,000 feet) according to current models with higher masses at lower altitudes or shorter flight durations.

Xogdor will be Masten Space System’s first attempt at reaching above 100km. Using the same engines used on Foxie but with larger tanks, Xogdor is a final release candidate for the full XA-1.0 production vehicle.

In 2011 Xogdor will be scaled up to the full production vehicle: XA-1.0. While its exact design and performance are still notional, it will be capable of ESPA, Mid-Deck Locker, and multiple-PPOD payload standards and will provide data storage, ground telemetry, power, and pressurized payload space.


Xaero takes off and land vertically in the same place it launches from. The flight profile consists of launch, acceleration to Mach 0.9 throughout the majority of atmospheric resistance, then going full throttle before shutting off the engine.

During parabolic coast phase the payload experiences microgravity. As the vehicle descends back into the atmosphere and gains speed the coast phase ends. At this point the rocket stabilizes itself and falls towards the ground engine-first before the engine re-lights and lands the vehicle on the same pad used for takeoff.

Flight profiles have some flexibility for payload specific needs and are assessed on a per payload basis. Flight profiles on all vehicles can be modified for lower accelerations with minimal loss of altitude and microgravity time.


Xaero is the company’s first vehicle to use an aeroshell. Xaero and Xogdor (next generation platform) use the same basic aeroshell and payload bay design. The upper payload bay is roughly conical.

Payload placement slots are available in both the forward section of the nose cone or in smaller areas toward the aft end of the vehicle. As currently designed, Xaero’s airframe allows for P-POD Cubesat carriers and single ESPA ring mounts as a standard payload format. Lower bays are limited in size and do not adhere to any existing payload interface standard.


Launch windows are available on demand with very short lead time. Turn time between flights is limited only by refueling time, air space availability, and payload integration. Air space availability is an unpredictable component that is affected by existing Federal Range policies and capabilities.

Part of the company’s strategy is to lower the operational costs of not only operating the vehicle but of on-boarding a customer and integrating the payload. A fast turn around time for the vehicle doesn’t accomplish much if payloads require a large amount of integration time. Using existing interface standards and off the shelf components should enable payloads to be delivered, tested and be ready for flight within hours. Where a customer requires immediate pre and post flight access to the payload there may be additional costs associated with ground support crew necessary to facilitate that access and to
ensure safety.


Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Editor’s Note: The above information was compiled from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program website and Masten’s public Request for Information (RFI) response for the CRuSR program. A shout out to Clark Lindsey of Hobby Space for originally finding the published information.