Inside the Capitol

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The X Prize Cometh

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE � Mark your calendars. The dates have been announced. New Mexico�s first X Prize events will be October 4-9, 2005. Las Cruces will be the headquarters, but Alamogordo and several other locations around the state also will be involved.
Gov. Bill Richardson announced last week that these events will be called Countdown to the X Prize Cup. The X Prize Cup competition is scheduled to begin next year. It will be held at White Sands Missile Range until New Mexico�s Southwest Regional Spaceport is ready at Upham, about 30 miles north of Las Cruces, in either 2007 or 2008.
The X Prize annual competition is predicted to become the premier space event of the 21st century, launching a personal spaceflight revolution.
State Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti expects the competition to become one of global proportions, �one that will bring visitors and visibility for New Mexico from around the world and beyond.�
It�s the �beyond� part that I like.
X Prize competitions began last year, with the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition, won by Burt Rutan�s SpaceShipOne, sponsored by sometimes Santa Fe resident Paul Allen. They flew out of California, but the competitions beginning next year will all be in New Mexico.
Last year�s competition drew 26 teams from 7 nations. The competition generated over $50 million of investment and over five billion media mentions. At least as many teams are expected for future competitions.
This year�s Countdown will be a warm-up for the competitions slated to begin next year. And it will be worth attending.
Included in the events to be staged at the Las Cruces International Airport will be demonstration flights of reusable space vehicles by future X Prize Cup contenders, preview flights of the Tier-1 X Prize Rocket Racer, and a 200-foot vertical ascension of the Black Armadillo American rocket ship, which will then land vertically.
Static hardware displays of the X Prize team vehicles will be on exhibit. There will be flight simulations and opportunities to visit with astronauts, spacecraft designers and X Prize team leaders and pilots.
Some visitors will get to experience the sensation of weightlessness on flights of G-Force One, the nation�s only FAA approved zero-gravity aircraft. The craft was built by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and founder of the X Prize Foundation.
Other events will include a day of educational activities for 2,000 students at the Alamogordo Space History Museum and at other sites tied to the state�s history of space exploration. Community meetings are being scheduled across the state to help communities create their own space-related events during that week.
New Mexico won the right to permanently host the X Prize Cup events in a national competition, beating out finalists California, Florida and Oklahoma. The state Legislature helped win that competition by approving the governor�s request for $9 million to develop the infrastructure, launch and landing facilities to host and market the competition.
That�s a lot to spend on one event a year, but Diamandis intends to make sure that the event develops into an industry. Gov. Richardson envisions the X Prize boosting the aerospace industry in New Mexico, plus tourism, thereby creating many new jobs.
Rick Homans, New Mexico Economic Development Department secretary, says this puts us on the ground floor of the whole new commercial space travel industry.
So plan to attend in October. That�s a wonderful time of year in southern New Mexico and you will be participating in a part of history by attending the inaugural event of something that is going to become a major international event for many years to come.
It was similar events almost a century ago that got the commercial airline industry on its feet. The government is not going to do it. Private industry is where it will happen and these competitions, with high cash prizes, will provide the incentive.
FRI, 4-22-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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