XCOR Participates in RocketShip Tours Lynx Beta Spaceflight Participant Qualification Program
During four sun-splashed days at the ultra exclusive Sanctuary at Camelback Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, a select group of travel industry executives and seasoned adventure tourism experts gathered to experience the sensations of training to be trail blazing and history making private astronauts aboard XCOR Aerospace’s suborbital Lynx vehicle. The sessions were planned and hosted by RocketShip Tours, the exclusive General Sales Agent for XCOR owned and operated suborbital space vehicles. In addition to testing the processes and content of this dedicated Participant Qualification Program, this select group learned exactly what their unique and path finding clientele will experience when they undergo the rigorous and personally rewarding four-day training sessions leading up to a “Pinnacle Life Event” of traveling safely to the edge of space and back.
The attendees participated in orientation seminars, educational presentations on the history of space flight, reviews of the regulatory framework of the industry, detailed technical and operational briefings from XCOR staff. They also enjoyed private access-only meetings with XCOR founders, scientists, engineers and C-level executives. Of particular interest to the participants was learning about XCOR’s lengthy experience with manned rocket flights. Since 2001 XCOR has developed safe, reliable, and fully reusable rocket propulsion. This history was brought to life with footage and personal accounts of flights in Lynx test bed vehicles, in total accounting for over 50% of the world’s manned rocket flights in the 21st Century, including a record setting seven-flight day in a single vehicle. Also discussed was the inherently safer, simpler and less complicated approach of launching directly from the runway under fully tested and reusable liquid fueled rocket power. Other discussions and education sessions focused on the US FAA’s role in regulating the industry and the excellent job they’ve done, the informed consent liability regime for space flight participants, launch licensing, the thrill of flying in a rocket powered aircraft, and the various medical aspects of high altitude requiring a full pressure suit to enhance safety.
In addition to the educational experiences and exclusive access afforded to the participants, they also were put through the paces of “The XCOR Right Stuff” screening protocol: rigorous aviation medical physicals, space suit familiarization, cockpit ingress/egress procedures, altitude chamber / hypoxia safety training, and a G-force experience in an aerobatic aircraft capable of simulating the re-entry profile of Lynx. The “in the cockpit” G-force training is seen as significantly better than a simple single axis centrifuge experience due to the realism offered to the adventure participant. Being in the cockpit, within the closer confines and changing visual horizon while sensing motion along more than one axis, contributes to ensuring that the participant will be fully prepared for their “Right Stuff” flight in the co-pilot’s seat to the edge of space and back in the Lynx suborbital vehicle.
Space suit familiarization allowed the participants to try on representative flight suits and various helmet and oxygen breathing apparatus used in flight, as well as some older relics of history such as Russian high altitude helmet. A prototype of the pressure suit in development by Orbital Outfitters for Lynx flights enhanced this safety demonstration. The experience of wearing a fully enclosed pressure suit is not a familiar experience to most, and could identify early on any potential issues with the feelings of confined spaces and claustrophobia. Robert Jacobsen, Managing Partner of Desert Sky Holdings and founder of the website 62 Mile Club noted “the experience was foreign, but not uncomfortable for me, but I can see how some may feel the pull of the helmet on their fitted pressure suit while moving and become uncomfortable – it is good to identify this early so people can be trained to overcome any such uneasy feelings.” Robert is shown in a Cold War-era helmet.
The medical effects of altitude were discussed by expert aviation medical educators from Arizona State University, Aviation Programs before the group entered the ASU altitude chamber. Used as a professional training site by the world’s airlines and military aviation corps, the facility has the ability to change pressurization and simulate rapid decompression at high altitudes. The RocketShip Tours program participants learned how to identify the effects of hypoxia due changes in pressurization and practiced life saving techniques. Jack Mannix, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group and a private pilot in his own right described the training as “invaluable … if you fly on any aircraft, you should experience this training … it could save your life on any flight, airline operated or otherwise, and I now understand why you want to wear the pressure suit as a back up to any space life support system, it’s like American Express, ‘Don’t leave home without it,’ or at least the ground!” To the right is a photo of the ASU chamber.
The final major physical screening activity was a G-Force training flight. Using a Pitts S-2C, each participant experienced a G-force profile developed by Rick Searfoss, XCOR’s Chief test Pilot and three time Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander. Consisting of a series of maneuvers producing differing levels, length, and types of G-forces, this aerobatic flight profile is an important element of preparation for Lynx flight. Greg Claxton, Director Sales at Incredible Adventures, who has spun MIGs in Moscow, gives the thumbs-up sign prior to G-Force training (and a few extra maneuvers – or so the story goes, but no one is spilling the beans!). Greg says of his Lynx training flight, “I have flown jet fighters, performed maneuvers in aerobatic prop planes and flown in Zero-Gravity multiple times -- experiencing the sustained g-forces during the customized flight training in the Pitts was like nothing I have done before! It brought me to an exciting new place of realism of what it would be like leaving earth in Lynx, heading towards space and then coming back safely.”
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