Space vehicle, with at least five crew, must make two orbital flights within 60-day period

Efforts to stimulate the space tourism industry will continue next year with the launch of a $50 million prize for the first privately developed vehicle capable of completing two orbits of the Earth carrying a crew of at least five people.

Organisers of the $10 million Ansari X-Prize won by Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne suborbital spaceplane, meanwhile, plan a series of annual X-Prize Cup launch competitions beginning in June 2005.

Hotelier Robert Bigelow plans to launch the America's Space Prize in January, with a $50 million prize, of which $25 million is to be put up by Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing an inflatable space habitat. The remaining $25 million will come from other potential backers.

To win, a privately developed vehicle must reach a minimum 400km (645 miles) altitude and "complete two full orbits with no less than a crew of five", says Bigelow counsel Michael Gold. "No more than 20% of the spaceship's mass can be expendable. And this all has to be done twice within 60 days by 10 January 2010," he says.

To qualify, teams must have their "principal place of business" in the USA, but Gold does not rule out international consortia. The spacecraft must be able to dock with Bigelow's space habitat, which the company hopes to have in orbit by 2010, and be capable of remaining on station for at least six months.

The X-Prize organisation, meanwhile, is planning national air race-like competitions with two to three launches a day. "We're hoping that five or six teams will come to the first event, with more and more following in the next few years," says executive director Gregg Maryniak.



Source: Flight International