Inside the Capitol

Sunday, October 02, 2005

10-5 Don't Miss the X Prize

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- "There will be fire in the sky and on the ground. And plenty of noise all around."
Those are the words of Rick Homans, secretary of the state Economic Development Department, describing this coming Sunday's activities at the X Prize Personal Spaceflight Expo in Las Cruces. The action takes place from noon to 5 p.m. at the Las Cruces International Airport.
The program advertises demonstration flights and launches by the XCOR EZ-Rocket, Armadillo Aerospace, ARCA Aerospace, Golden powered by the da Vinci Project, Starchaser Industries, Plantespace/Canadian Arrow, Rocketplane and TRIPOLI Rocket.
In addition, there will be 16 static displays and over 50 exhibitors. Homans says the event is intended to give the public a sense of where the commercial spaceflight industry is right now.
That industry is at the point it is right now, with a big assist from the X Prize Foundation, which is dedicated to raising money for space competitions similar to those that were being offered 80 years ago to encourage commercial airplane flight.
Charles Lindbergh picked up the $25,000 Orteig Prize for his 1927 transatlantic flight to Paris. Last October, SpaceShipOne, financed by part-time Santa Fe resident Paul Allen, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for flying twice to the edge of space, within a two-week period.
Those two flights were to the same altitude that the first government astronauts flew in the 1960s, at the cost of billions. Allen laid out $20 million for SpaceShipOne, which didn't dump anything in the ocean on its way up and returned to space in five days rather than the months current government shuttles require.
In addition, SpaceShipOne carried the weight of two additional passengers. The Mercury spacecraft had room for only the pilot. That's all that is needed, but a primary purpose of commercial spaceflight is to carry paying customers.
Englishman Richard Branson already has contracted with SpaceShipOne's Burt Rutan to provide passengers within two years. Tickets will be $208,000.
Who would pay that kind of money? Branson, owner of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways, has a long list of people who can afford it. Two Americans and a South African already have taken rides aboard the Russians' Soyuz rocket at $20 million apiece for a week's stay at the International Space Station.
As your read this, millionaire scientist Gregory Olsen is on that trip. Olsen says one of the reasons for his mission is to make space flight more routine. Branson says he expects to sell 3,000 tickets in the first five years for the trip aboard Rutan's plane.
Dr. Peter Diamandis is the catalyst behind the increase in commercial spaceflight technology. He holds a post-graduate degree in astronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.D. degree from Harvard.
The degrees were to help him become a NASA astronaut, but after becoming familiar with NASA, he decided it moved far too slowly. So in 1988, he started his own firm with the goal of beginning an age of spacecraft development and competition similar to what the Wright Brothers touched off at Kittyhawk.
Diamandis is chairman of the X Prize Foundation Many of its prizes will be awarded at future X Prize Cup competitions at the Southwest Regional Spaceport north of Las Cruces. A $50 million prize is being put together for the first private company to put space tourists into orbit.
Ian Murphy, a spokesman for the X Prize Expo, says commercial space travel fits nicely with NASA's goal to find less expensive ways to get to the International Space Station so its money can go into exploration. It will end up saving everyone money, he says.
So come on out to the X Prize events. Saturday's action will be in Alamogordo at the New Mexico Museum of Space History and Sunday will be in Las Cruces.
State Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti predicts this will become "an event of global proportions, bringing visitors to New Mexico from around the world -- and beyond."
Don't miss it.
WED, 10-05-05

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



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