XCOR Aerospace, based at Mojave Spaceport, California, is developing the versatile Xerus suborbital spaceplane, to be powered by in-house rocket engines featuring XCOR piston pumps. These new pumps promise greater reliability than conventional turbopumps. Xerus will take off from a spaceport runway under its own power, climb to 65 km, and cut its engines. It will then coast to 100 km, where it will conduct one of three missions: (1) microgravity research, (2) microsatellite launch, or (3) space tourism. Maximum velocity will be Mach 4. Restart of the rocket engines, with the help of quick-acting piston pumps, will make landings safer and go-arounds possible. The Xerus will utilize liquid propellants only, either methane or kerosene as the fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. Methane (CH4) offers great promise as a rocket fuel, because it can be manufactured in places such as Mars, or pumped directly from the surface of Titan at some point in the future. It is also easily liquefied for use in spaceplanes. XCOR plans to charge tourists $98,000 for brief space experience flights of at least 30 min, including 3 min of zero gravity, starting in 2009 or 2010.5
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