100 km wins the x prize

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  • 100 km Wins the X Prize

    Chris MeManes

    Its never hard to find people to join a victory parade and share in anothers glory. Its much more difficult, however, to find people to believe in you when all you have is a dream and an undying determination to succeed.

    When Ansari X Prize Foundation President Dr. Peter Diamandis proposed his idea of staging a private space-flight competition in 1996, IEEE Life Fellow Thomas Rogers was the first to open his checkbook and demonstrate his support.

    So Rogers took pleasure when Diamandis foundation recently awarded $10 million to Burt Rutan and the crew of SpaceShipOne for reaching the cusp of space twice in October 2004.

    accomplished, said Rogers, a physicist who, as deputy director of Defense Research and Engineering in the mid-l960s, worked with former President Lyndon Johnson. First, whaiever else the Uniied States of America does in space, we should see space opened to the general public, and ihats beginning to happen.

    poientially. that sewing if will help io reduce the cost of surface-space transportation. And cast is one of the greatest inhibitors to doing things in space ioday. The third thing that were seeing is that for thefirsr time, space transportation and the carrying ofpeople back and forth to space is being conducted by ourprivaie sector. Its ground rules and perceptions are quite differentfiom those of the government, and we need both. Now we have ii.

    Diamandis was invited to discuss the X Prize on Capitol Hill in November before Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), and congressional staffers. The space entrepreneur also encouraged lawmakers to pass legislation promoting private space flight. Rogers, a member of IEEE-USAs Committee on Transportation and Aerospace Technology Policy, arranged Diamandis appearance and attended the briefing.

    The X Prize presentation was one of 10 briefings sponsored in 2004 by the Congressional Research & Development (R&D) Caucus

  • miles above eanh. Mike Melvill rolled 29 times during ascent in SpaceShipOnes first flight five days earlier. Each successful journey took about 90 minutes.

    Diamandis, who holds degrees in aerospace engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, said he was confident all along that someone would win the $10 million prize.

    I was obviously thrilled that it was done with such skill and ease, and winning the competition infront of the World was beautiful, I he said. I think the impact of it was really the next day when I felt a real sense of relief that we were able to fulfill the promise we had made to all the people who backed us. I

    The X Prize is evolving into the X Prize Cup, which will showcase Reusable Launch Vehicles in competitive races with cash prizes. The 10-day event will be held annually in Las Cruces, NM, beginning in the summer of 2006.

    Rogers provided Diamandis seed money for the X Prize through his Sophran Foundation so that Diamandis could seek additional financial support. The Sophran Foundation was founded in 1972 to support useful endeavors in space, including space tourism.

    I was kidding Peter recently about the fwo things I did to help him get started with the X Prize, Rogers said. Peter said, Two things? I said, Yes, afer I gave you the money, I promised to stay out of your way.

    The three levels of human space. flight are parabolic, suborbital, and orbital. Parabolic flights allow passengers to experience weightlessness and are offered commercially by Diamandis company, Zero Gravity Corp. Suborbital flights take you to space, and orbital excursions allow you to circle the earth above the planets atmosphere. SpaceShipOne is a suborbital vehicle; the Space Shuttle is orbital.

    offering orbital flights. Dennis Tito was the first space tourist when he traveled to the Intemational Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001.

    Ainvays, announced in late September the creation of Virgin Galactic, a space venture that will offer people seats aboard suborbital spacecraft. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who financed Scaled Composites X Prize-winning effort, owns the technology through his company, Mojave Aerospace Ventures.

    Branson envisions Virgin Galactic flying some 3,000 passengers within five years at a cost of about $200,000 per person. Tito, a former NASA engineer, paid a reported $20 million for his eight-day orbital adventure.

    Space tourism has the potential to become a huge business and key US economic driver. A 2002 study of more than 450 wealthy Americans found that space travel could generate more than $1 billion a year by 2021. Suborbital tourism, according to the study:

  • footing. It will facilitate the launch of new types of reusable suborbital rockets by allowing the FAA to issue experimental permits quicker and with fewer requirements than licenses.

    This is a great victory for thefuture ofAmericas space efforts, Rohrabacher said in a statement. The people who will invest the type of big dollars necessary to make this a major new step in mankinds ascent into space have been waiting for the govemment to lay down the regulatory regime and set the rules of the game, and this is the first major step towards doing that.

    H.R. 5382 also increases the FAAs authority to regulate launches to ensure passenger and crew safety. Although space transportation companies will be required to warn participants of the inherent risks of space travel, they will not face crippling lawsuits. Diamandis made an impassioned plea at the congressional X Prize briefing for the government to allow space travel, despite the risks.

    Were going to lose our lives exploring space and thats OK, as long as we dont hurt the uninvolvedpublic, he said.

    If its our desire as explorers to go explore the stars and risk our lives, why should [you] stop us? Its the greatest frontier that humanitys ever had. We should take the greatest risks that we [can]. Everything we hold of value on this planet - metal, minerals, real estate, energy - the greatest discoveries we will ever hnve are out there to be had.

    Why should we stop ourselves now? For Gods sake, allow the risk to be taken: its a worthwhile risk Dont stop now, please.

    Chris McManes is IEEE-USAs senior public relations coordinafor. ?his anicle originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of ZEEE-USA Todnys Engineer chiip://www.iodaysengineer. orgz.

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