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Monday, June 07, 2004

Space Race II: Not NASA's space program
chabot imageAn other news release related to june 21; by Irene Mona Klotz, United Press International:
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 7 (UPI) -- The faithful, the curious, and of course the news media will gather on June 21 to witness the start of a new era in human spaceflight.
They will not travel to Cape Canaveral, where all other human U.S. expeditions to space have set sail. They will not be visiting the Russian launch site, either, which until China's foray into space last year was the only other place on Earth from which living beings have left the planet.
The birthplace of this 21st century space race is California's Mojave Desert, a remote and wind-swept region largely untouched by the hands of time -- with one notable exception. The skies over Mojave have been the backdrop for an armada of esoteric flying machines created by wizard engineers employed by government agencies and private firms.
It was in Mojave airspacethat test-pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in October 1947. It is where, 39 years later, pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager (no relation to Chuck Yeager) took off in an aircraft called Voyager, which was built by Rutan's brother Burt for a non-stop journey around the world.
After flying 24,986 miles, the aviators landed back at Mojave nine days after takeoff, the first pilots to circumnavigate the globe without refueling. At the time, it was thought to be the last major flight record.
Burt Rutan was far from finished, however. Having reached the sky's limit, he set his eyes on space. Working quietly at his Mojave-based firm, Scaled Composites, Rutan's team created SpaceShipOne, a vehicle that one might expect to find in George Jetson's garage. It looks more airplane than rocketship, with swooped-back vertical wings framing a sleek, pointy nosed cockpit.
When the United States launched its first astronaut into space, it chose the exact altitude that SpaceShipOne is heading toward: 62 miles above Earth, an even 100 kilometers. It is high enough above the atmosphere to be out of its grasp and high enough to see the planet as an orb set in space.
Shepard's spacecraft, Freedom 7, did not have a window. When he launched, on May 5, 1961, America was more concerned with the fact that its Cold War adversary already had put cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in orbit. By the time Virgil "Gus" Grissom climbed aboard his Liberty Bell 7 for a follow-up flight, on July 21, 1961, the astronauts had won their battle for ships with a view.
Forty-three years later, that 15 1/2-minute ride will be worth $10 million and a place in the history books. The race this time is not to showcase armaments to the Soviets, however. It is meant to parlay new technology into a robust and expanding consumer service: tourism.
A study by Futron Corp., a space consulting firm in Bethesda, Md., determined that, by 2021, suborbital space tourism could bring in $700 million a year in revenue by flying 15,000 passengers who have the means and the desire to go.
Space Adventures, a specialty travel agency in Arlington, Va., already is marketing suborbital flights and expects to begin selling tickets in a year or two. The company is even partnered with US Airways to allow passengers to use Dividend Miles in exchange for a roundtrip ride to space. The price? 10 million air miles or about $100,000 cash.
Though Rutan's Scaled Composites is the leading pioneer in this new space frontier, the company is far from alone. More than two dozen teams have registered as contestants in a competition known as the Ansari X Prize and run by a non-profit foundation. The group plans to award $10 million to the first team to fly a three-person craft to suborbital altitude twice within two weeks. Rutan aims to reach the X Prize-winning altitude during the June 21 test flight, but the craft will not have the weight of three people -- just one. His formal bid to win the X Prize is expected later this summer. Read More


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