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Space Race 2: After The X Prize

Exhibition planners also are considering more subjective criteria - coolest ship, for example - as well as some regulatory-bending races, such as point-to-point flights.
by Irene Mona Klotz
Cape Canaveral (UPI) Fla Oct 12, 2004
The $10 million X Prize has been won, but the next space race, worth an estimated $1 billion a year, is just beginning.

For now, Virgin Galactic, a U.S. offshoot of entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Group in the United Kingdom, is the most visible of the half-dozen or so companies developing plans and vehicles to fly tourists to space.

Branson licensed the X Prize winner, Mojave Aerospace Ventures of Mojave, Calif., to develop a fleet of five sub-orbital spaceships to ferry passengers beyond Earth's atmosphere. The first flight is scheduled for 2007.

Nipping at Branson's heels, however, are a handful of X Prize contenders and other firms that are designing and testing vehicles to travel to the edge of space and back. To make sure the fruits of the X Prize competition continue to blossom, the foundation that set up the private space race plans an annual showcase of sub-orbital spaceflights called the X Prize Cup.

It's not enough to be flying once a week or even once a day, X Prize Foundation head Peter Diamandis told United Press International. We need ships flying every hour - dozens of times a day.

In order to bring such a prospect to reality, Diamandis emphasized the need for a competitive market. We need to have not only the Apple, but the Dell and Gateway and HP of space, he said.

Along those lines, organizers are planning a demonstration exhibition for next year at White Sands, N.M., and beginning in 2006 or 2007, the venue is expected to move to a new commercial spaceport in southern New Mexico, located about 45 miles north of Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences.

Prospective space concerns will vie for cash prizes awarded in several categories, including the most number of flights within a two-week period, the highest altitude, the fastest climb to space, the maximum number of people flown during a single flight, as well as the maximum number of people flown throughout the two-week venue.

The exhibition planners also are considering more subjective criteria - coolest ship, for example - as well as some regulatory-bending races, such as point-to-point flights.

Judges will score contenders award prizes in each category, but the team with the highest number of points overall will win the new X Prize Cup.

Organizers have modeled the competition after several exhibitions, including the Experimental Aircraft Association's highly successful, annual airshow in Oshkosh, Wis., the National Championship Air Races & Air Show in Reno, Nev., the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing's Formula One competition, and the America's Cup yacht races.

Each of these competitions attracts millions of dollars in sponsorships and draws thousands of spectators to venues. X Prize Cup organizers expect their event to be no different.

Last week, as the first X Prize competition drew to a close in Mojave, the first sponsor for the X Prize Cup stepped forward: International Fuel Technology Inc. of St. Louis, which pledged multi-year support in the high six figures.

We are proud to be associated with the X Prize Cup and inspired to work with participating teams from all over the globe, FTI chairman Jonathan Burst said at a news conference after SpaceShipOne nailed the Ansari X Prize.

Parlaying the space race into an ongoing annual competition will add another layer of regulatory and licensing challenges to the technical and financial issues already facing the X Prize teams.

The Federal Aviation Administration, charged with overseeing commercial human spaceflight, has pledged to support whatever the industry needs to develop - as long as public safety is assured.

We all have a stake in this, FAA chief Marion Blakey told UPI. We want to make things possible. We don't want to be the bucket behind the boat.

One of the first obstacles to overcome is to determine who can fly. FAA currently prohibits anyone other than a pilot to ride aboard a commercial space vehicle.

XCOR Aerospace, another Mojave firm - which passed up the X Prize competition to focus on developing a marketable vehicle - is designing a two-passenger ship that includes both a pilot and flight engineer post. XCOR president Jeff Greason said he thinks it is important to work incrementally with government regulators.

We're not just building a company, Greason told UPI, we're building an industry.

As the X Prize galvanized space entrepreneurs to design reusable, sub-orbital passenger ships, the X Prize Cup will become a tool to clear obstacles that are inhibiting the development of private space travel.

For example, Burt Rutan, the designer of SpaceShipOne - the craft that won the Ansari X Prize with its successful flight Oct. 4 - was continually frustrated in his attempts to tweak the return flight path of his ship to accommodate wind shifts and other aerodynamic issues.

During its return to Earth, SpaceShipOne is strictly a glider, with no rocket engine burns, no motorized flight, and no more of a threat to public safety than any of the thousands of gliders that routinely overfly populated areas every day, Rutan told UPI.

X Prize Cup organizers also face issues stemming from import restrictions and launching foreign rockets on U.S. soil. The X Prize competition attracted contenders from all over the world, including two teams in Canada that reportedly are close to flying their vehicles. Whether the teams will be able to compete in the X Prize Cup is another question.

In addition to developing a space tourism market, the X Prize Foundation envisions sub-orbital spaceships used to expedite package-delivery services.

Organizers are considering a point-to-point contest as part of the X Prize Cup, to demonstrate how fast a ship can travel between two places on the globe via a quick hop through sub-orbital space.

So far, the FAA has licensed ships to fly only in tightly restricted corridors above a few spaceports. SpaceShipOne, for example, took an hour to reach its 48,000-foot altitude launch site because its jet carrier aircraft, White Knight, had to spiral up within the narrow airspace over the Mojave Civilian Test Flight Center.

We're evolving our future one painful step at a time, Greason said.

Space Race 2 is a series exploring the people, passions and business of sub-orbital manned spaceflight.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2004 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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Space Race Pilots Wore CarbonX Flame-Resistant Flight Suits
Salt Lake City UT (SPX) Oct 11, 2004
What did SpaceShipOne pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie wear when they made their historic private manned missions into space to clinch the coveted X Prize and $10 million? The answer is CarbonX, an advanced fire-resistant fabric. Chapman Innovations, makers of CarbonX, teamed up with Corvo Industries to create custom flight suits and gloves for the winning team.

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