Headlines > News > X-Prize craft set for space shot

X-Prize craft set for space shot

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Sep 29, 2004 12:00 am
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chabot imagebbc.com: The race for the $10m Ansari X-Prize begins in earnest on Wednesday as SpaceShipOne prepares to rocket into space from Mojave Airport in California

In June, SpaceShipOne became the first private, manned craft to go above 100km
Now it must repeat the feat twice inside two weeks to claim the prize that was established to galvanise the commercial spaceflight business.
Already, one millionaire is looking to future by setting up a $50m prize for the first private orbiting spacecraft.
SpaceShipOne has been designed by aviation legend Burt Rutan and is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The vehicle is scheduled to take off at 1300 GMT on its bid to break through the Earth’s atmosphere, an altitude officially recognised as 100km (62 miles).

Qualifying flight

The rocket plane will be carried to 13.8km (46,000ft) slung under the White Knight aircraft. When it is released, SpaceShipOne will glide for a few seconds before its pilot lights the rocket and points the vehicle straight up.
At the top of its flight, SpaceShipOne must adjust its wings to give the craft a different shape, known as the high-drag configuration. This ensures that during its fall back to Earth, the vehicle’s descent speed is controlled and heating of the airframe is minimised.

The pilot for the flight has not yet been announced. The pilot on the June test flight was Mike Melville. Nor is it clear whether there will be any passengers, but Mr Rutan said he will be one of the first passengers, possibly on the second X-Prize flight.
On both qualifying flights, SpaceShipOne will need to fly with a pilot and at least the ballast equivalent of two other people.

Mr Rutan admitted that June’s record-breaking test was not perfect; some “anomalies” had occurred. Mr Melvill spoke of a loud bang during the record-breaking mission.
On the ground, he pointed out a section at the back of the craft where a part covering the nozzle had buckled, suggesting it may have caused the odd noise.

This has prompted a tweak for Wednesday’s attempt: the nozzle has been reinforced and painted white to limit its temperature.

Focussed effort

By focussing the efforts of private entrepreneurs, the X-Prize aims to break the monopoly of government organisations and jumpstart space tourism.
It appears the prize may have succeeded in this goal, with news on Monday that Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson would be offering commercial space flights in about three years using the technology employed by Rutan on SpaceShipOne.

The X-Prize will be give to the first team to send a three-person craft over 100km, and repeat the feat in the same ship within two weeks.
Rutan says he plans to make the two qualifying flights within four to seven days of each other. High winds are his major concern and could lead to delays.

A rival team, the Toronto-based GoldenPalace.com Space Program, which was formerly called the daVinci project, has put back its stab at the prize. The team had been scheduled for a first launch on 2 October.

Team leader Brian Feeney said the delay was necessary to allow more time to work with a pressure vessel for the Wild Fire spacecraft, as well a few other minor components.

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