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Science & Space

New Mexico to host private X Prize spaceflight contests

By Leonard David
SPACE.comexternal link

Privately financed space vehicles will compete for the X Prize Cup.
X Prize
New Mexico
White Sands Missile Range

SPACE.comexternal link -- The X Prize Foundation and the New Mexico Office of Space Commercialization are joining forces to stage the multi-faceted X Prize Cup, a two-week long event that allows for privately financed, passenger-carrying space vehicles to compete for prizes.

At a press conference to be held later today at the State House in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson is set to announce that New Mexico has been picked as the site for the X Prize Cup. The event would be held at the Southwest Regional Spaceport during the same timeframe each year.

"We went through a lengthy selection process ... narrowing it down to Florida and New Mexico. Both states provided us their best and final bid and they both offered very attractive opportunities," said Peter Diamandis, head of the X Prize Foundation of St. Louis, Missouri.

"The New Mexico proposal was stronger, specifically on the strength of their financial bid," Diamandis told "Governor Richardson is personally very excited about the whole space business and about building New Mexico into a central hub for public spaceflight."

New Mexico lawmakers passed legislation for $9 million to snag the X Prize Cup, with additional funds later allocated.

Earlier developments

Today's X Prize Cup site selection builds upon several recent developments. Earlier this month, it was announced that entrepreneurs Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari have given a multimillion dollar contribution to the X Prize Foundation. In doing so, the X Prize contest was renamed the Ansari X Prize Competition to reflect the newly-established title sponsorship.

In March the X Prize Foundation announced a Presenting Sponsorship from Champ Car World Series, the leading open-wheel race car series.

Diamandis said that the X Prize Cup and Public Spaceflight Exposition is now slated for the summer of 2005, initially working with the White Sands Missile Range, just outside La Cruces, New Mexico. "It will be a couple of weeks about speed and and adventure for the whole family," he added.

"We expect that the first X Prize Cup will actually occur in the summer of 2006. We have a couple of years to get the infrastructure in place," Diamandis said. "We're basically creating a new business model for the whole space business including media, sponsorships...and the X Prize Cup is an important part of that."

Spaceport plans

The New Mexico Office for Space Commercialization was established in 1994 to promote, coordinate, develop and manage New Mexico's regional spaceport program. It also coordinates the promotion and marketing of New Mexico's space-related resources.

According to the agency's Web site, selection of a spaceport in New Mexico has centered on Upham, an undeveloped location in Southern New Mexico approximately 45 miles north of Las Cruces and 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences.

The proposed 27-square-mile site is open, generally level range land with an average elevation of 4,700 feet. Upham has been considered an inland low-risk site in all key program areas including operational performance, flight safety, schedule support, and cost-revenue implications.

Favorable climate, land usage, and controlled air space availability make high rate launch and recovery operations possible with minimal contingencies, the Web site explains. The proposed spaceport locale is globally positioned to launch to all desirable orbital inclinations.

Facilities located at the spaceport would include a launch complex; a landing strip and aviation complex; a payload assemblies complex; a support facilities complex; a system development complex; and site and infrastructure.

International competition

Twenty-seven teams from seven countries have registered to compete for the Ansari X Prize of $10 million and others are expected for the X Prize Cup competition. Participating teams now represent the United States, Canada, Argentina, Russia, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Romania.

The Ansari X Prize is modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for his historic flight from New York to Paris.

The $10 million cash award will go to the first private organization to build and fly a ship that can carry three passengers 62 miles (100 kilometers) into space, return safely to Earth and repeat the launch with the same ship within two weeks. Both flights must be completed by January 1st, 2005.

All of the Ansari X Prize teams with their privately developed vehicles are invited to participate for cash prizes in a competitive series of races, culminating in a single X Prize Cup winner.

Concept vehicles range from spaceplanes that takeoff and land on conventional runways, to water launched vehicles, to one that takes off from below the world's largest hot air balloon.

Space race rules

For the X Prize Cup, teams will compete for cash prizes in each of the following five categories:

  • Fastest turn-around time -- Maximum number of passengers carried in one flight
  • Total number of passengers carried during the entire X Prize Cup event -- Maximum altitude attained
  • Fastest flight time from take-off to landing
  • An overall winner, based on total points scored in each competition, will also be chosen and awarded the X Prize Cup Trophy, which they will retain for one year.

    The Public Spaceflight Exposition is to be held in conjunction with the races to provide exciting, entertaining and educational experiences to engage and capture the interest and imagination of the general public. Realistic space experiences and a direct educational outreach to the public is planned, Diamandis said, to further the development of a space tourism market.

    "We're creating an event that has multiple things happening over two-weeks and during a fixed period of time. There's going to be lots going on," Diamandis said.

    Bill Gaubatz, vice president of the X Prize Foundation will be managing the X Prize Cup.

    Gaubatz is no stranger to high-flying X-vehicles. The Delta Clipper-Experimental (DC-X) was built under contract at McDonnell-Douglas, with Gaubatz serving as the Project Manager responsible for designing and building the reusable rocket that repeatedly flew from the White Sands Missile Range starting in the early 1990s.

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