NASA and X Prize to issue VTOL challenge

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A $2 million prize for a vertical take-off and vertical landing flight demonstration could be offered by NASA and the X Prize Foundation, as part of the US space agency’s Centennial Challenges. Run by NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, the Centennial Challenges are competitions supporting the agency’s Vision for Space Exploration and its Moon missions.

The X Prize Foundation, which organised the $10 million suborbital Ansari X Prize, wants awards to encourage commercial spaceflight technology development. It is in discussions with NASA for potential prizes. “Folks like Jon Carmack, Spacedev and Masten Space Systems would be interested in the vertical take-off, vertical landing prize,” says X Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis.

California-based Spacedev provides space products and solutions, while Masten Space Systems is a commercial human spaceflight vehicle developer; as is Carmack, a software entrepreneur who funds his own spaceflight development team, Armadillo Aerospace.

On 7 February NASA published a call for comments on its proposed rules for the programme and announced partnership opportunities for six challenges. The challenges are the fuel depot demonstration; human lunar all-terrain vehicle; low-cost space pressure suit; lunar night power source; micro re-entry vehicle; and station-keeping solar sail. Diamandis expects teams to compete for Foundation-related prizes by demonstrating their vehicles at the organisation’s X Prize Cup event. By 2008 Diamandis wants dozens of flights by different teams aiming to win prizes in categories such as the fastest trip and most passengers.