The Pathfinder Rocketplane is among nine projects which are in competition for a $10 million prize from the St Louis, Missouri-based X-Prize Foundation, which proposes to award the money to the team which kick-starts development of a privately operated, low-cost, passenger-carrying space vehicle.

The prize will be awarded to the first private spacecraft capable of lifting three people to an altitude of 99.2km on two consecutive sub-orbital flights within two weeks. The spacecraft could launch the concept of space tourism.

US company Pioneer and Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites, which are developing the Rocketplane, propose using Pratt & Whitney F100 turbofan fighter engines for take-off and landing and an RD-120 liquid-oxygen engine for in-flight power.

The plan is to load the liquid oxygen via in-flight fuelling. The payload of the craft has been set at 2,494kg.

Other contenders are Bristol Spaceplanes of the UK, HMX, PacAstro, Advent Launch Services, Discraft, Earth Space Transportation and organisations headed by aerospace engineers Michael Bagero and Paul Tyron.

Source: Flight International