In the spirit of the early 20th century aviation prizes, such as the Orteig prize that Charles Lindbergh won for crossing the Atlantic in 1927, the X PRIZE Foundation was established in 1994 as an educational, non-profit corporation dedicated to inspiring private, entrepreneurial advancements in space travel. The St. Louis-based X PRIZE Foundation offered a $10 million prize to the first team able to launch a vehicle capable of carrying three people to a 100-km sub-orbital altitude and repeating the flight within two weeks (only one person and ballast for two others are required to actually make the flights).
The X PRIZE was offered to help speed along development of space vehicle concepts that will reduce the cost of access to space and to allow human spaceflight to become routine.
By late 1999 the X PRIZE competition had 17 entrants from five countries offering a variety of different RLV concepts. The commercial vehicles under development for the X PRIZE competition were uniquely designed for sub-orbital space tourism operations carrying about three to six passengers. These designs used many different takeoff, landing, and design concepts, but all plan to use existing technology to accomplish their goals.
In May 1998, the Foundation unveiled the X PRIZE trophy, which was put on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. During the course of 1999, the X-Prize trophy was on loan to the Seattle Museum of Flight. During 1999, the X PRIZE Foundation made progress in attracting sponsors and new entrants.
The foundation worked with several non-US groups to encourage greater international participation in the competition.
Several of the X PRIZE entrants also took steps forward in developing their vehicles during 1999. In June, Burt Rutan flew the first stage of Proteus at the Paris Air Show. The flight, which initiated in Mojave, California, took the aircraft across the country to Bangor, Maine. From Bangor, Rutan took Proteus on a 12-hour journey nonstop to Le Bourget, France. Also in June, Steven Bennett, founder of the Starchaser Foundation, unveiled a full size mock-up of his Thunderbird craft to a crowd at Blackburn Rovers Field in England. During July, a 1/3 scale model of Bristol Spaceplanes' "Ascender" passenger spaceplane was displayed at the "Tomorrow's World Live" exhibition held in London.
Several of the competitors have commercial plans for their vehicles after the X PRIZE. In addition to the already discussed plans of Pioneer Rocketplane and Kelly Space and Technology, Scaled Composites' Proteus aircraft is planned for use for missions such as atmospheric research, reconnaissance, microsatellite launch, and as a telecommunications platform over metropolitan areas.78 The Mayflower and the Ascender are planned for continued use as commercial space tourism platforms. The X Van and the Cosmos Mariner are proposed for both satellite launch and space tourism missions.
Several "new space" US companies currently are developing the vehicles needed to meet this demand for human suborbital spaceflight. Public belief in the Personal Spaceflight Industry peaked following the award of the $10 million ANSARI X PRIZE, won by the Mojave Aerospace Ventures Team with the two successful flights of SpaceShip One on September 29th and October 4th, 2004.
The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in December 2004, empowers government to provide for the safety of the uninvolved public through launch licensing, as well as establish Industry Consensus Standards to provide for the safety of passengers and crew on these new vehicles.
In February 2005 leaders from the newly emerging Personal Spaceflight Industry announced their intent to organize an industry federation to design and uphold the standards and processes necessary to ensure public safety and promote growth of the personal spaceflight industry. The group also resolved to set up a Voluntary Personal Spaceflight Industry Consensus Standards Organization to develop Industry Consensus Standards to implement the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. Membership in the proposed federation would be open to all US non-profit and commercial entities developing suborbital commercial passenger travel.
Before the competition for the Ansari X Prize ended, the founders of the challenge decided to establish the X Prize Cup. This annual 5-day event is geared toward bringing forth new concepts and technologies which will enable development of commercial human spaceflight. A yearly set of competitions will also enable the public to learn about advancements in spaceflight technology. People will have chance to speak with the famous aviation and aerospace pioneers who are working to reduce the high cost and increase the safety and viability of commercial human space travel within this generation's lifetime.
Teams from all over the world will compete in five categories to win the overall cup. These categories are as follows: fastest turnaround time between the first launch and second landing, maximum number of passengers per launch, total number of passengers during the com-petition, maximum altitude, and fastest flight time.
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