Virgin Galactic vs. XCOR: Two Very Different Approaches

Space Up Houston August 2011 from Schipul – The Web Marketing Co. on Vimeo.

Virgin Galactic’s Will Pomerantz and XCOR Aerospace’s Khaki McKee both gave updates on their companies’ suborbital vehicles during the recent Houston SpaceUp conference. For the benefit of those who don’t have time to watch the full video above, I’ve summarized their presentations below in a convenient side-by-side table to allow for an easy comparison.


Virgin Galactic

XCOR Aerospace

Will Pomerantz

Khaki McKee

6 Passengers, 2 Crew
$200,000 per seat
1 passenger, 1 pilot
$95,000 per seat

  • Spaceship Two –  27 flights on WhiteKnightTwo –  15 free flights – 2 feather tests
  • Testing RocketMotorTwo separately
  • Six engine tests done at full power but none at full duration
  • Engine will fire for a little more than 1 minute
  • Showed picture of rocket test firing
  • 450 deposits –  $57 to $58 million in deposits

  • Beginning fabrication of Lynx Mark I
  • Cockpit pressure vessel – Sending out bids for fabrication of cockpit pressure vessel and fuselage
  • Engine testing once every week sometimes once every two weeks – routine
  • Test firing thrusters every day
  • Showed video of rocket test firing
  • Fuel pump has been tested to full Lynx power – flight capable
  • Wet leases with South Korea, Curacao to operate Lynx Mark II

  • The Spaceship Company is building WKTwos and SSTwos
  • TSC is hiring in a major way
  • 20 employees at beginning of year to 70 now to 115 by end of year to 150 this time next year

  • Lynx Mark I flight tests by Fall 2012
  • Lynx Mark I will fly to 61 km
  • Lynx Mark II will fly to 100 km (conservatively)
  • Lynx Mark II will be the same size but have a higher performance

  • 8-person SpaceShipTwo is based on smaller 3-person SpaceShipOne prototype built for only $25 million
  • SSOne cut a number of corners because it had to win the prize by the end of the year
  • Scaled up design to meet requirements of wealthy clients to float around
  • Hybrid engine composed of rubber and laughing gas (nitrous oxide)
  • Branson is an ambitious guy – if we do suborbital today, we should be doing point to point tomorrow and orbital the day after. We try to convince him that its not so simple as that.

  • Low cost, low maintenance and fast turnaround
  • All fully reusable and low-touch labor
  • Up to 4 flights per day
  • Two-hour turnaround between flights
  • Rapid callup of 4-hours
  • Uses FAA air traffic control system
  • Fuel pumps will have about 5000 flights before they expire
  • Non-toxic propellants – nothing you couldn’t spill on the floor
  • 4 regenerative cooled LOX-kerosene engines
  • NonBurnite – proprietary technology that will be used for LOX tank in Lynx Mark II – NASA contract to look manufacturing process