Momentum is picking up in staging the X Prize Cup, to be held October 20-21 at the Las Cruces International Airport, New Mexico.
There's a rich history of missilery in New Mexico, a state that has been witness to the ground-breaking liquid-fuel rocket flights of inventor Robert Goddard and the takeoffs of V-2 rockets from the White Sands Missile Range that boosted American space exploration dreams into reality.
Out at Spaceport America--the new name for New Mexico's Southwest Regional Spaceport--the key action item is launching the world's second space age. And helping to kick-start that theme is UP Aerospace and the firm's SpaceLoft XL solid-fuel rocket.
Ready to go
Jerry Larson, UP Aerospace President and Launch Conductor, is thumbs up about the group's first flight in late September from Spaceport America, located in Upham, New Mexico.
"We couldn't be in any better shape with our technology and site infrastructure. All aspects of the rocket--motor, avionics, and payloads--are ready to go," Larson advised SPACE.com.
The SpaceLoft XL is a 20-foot (6 meters) tall, single-stage solid-fuel rocket. At liftoff, the rocket will accelerate to five times the speed of sound--nearly 3,400 miles per hour--in just 13.5 seconds.
Whisking skyward high above Spaceport America, the rocket and its payload will reach the international definition of space, 62 miles (100 kilometers) in just a minute and a half, and achieve an even higher flight apogee shortly thereafter.
"The site infrastructure, including our newly commissioned Launch Control Center, is ready for launch operations," Larson said. "We finished our site activation procedures two weeks ago. All computer systems, computer networks, launch-control workstations, and intra-building and building-to-pad communication systems are in place and have been tested and fully certified."
Business is booming
Still to come at the Spaceport America site are final mission dress rehearsals, dubbed MDRs. "All team members will be reporting on station, and we'll be working through launch countdown procedures. After our MDRs are complete, we'll give the 'green light' to proceed to actual launch activities," Larson added.
For UP Aerospace, with corporate headquarters in Farmington, Connecticut, the space business is booming. Their launch schedule calls for several rocket flights this year, ramping up to a dozen flights in 2007 and roughly 30 suborbital missions for 2008 and beyond. The rocket company also has its eye on a vehicle meant to place small payloads into Earth orbit.
The SpaceLoft XL suborbital booster offers a 110-pound (50-kilogram) payload capacity. The intention of the group is to bring affordability to lofting significant-size payloads and sophisticated experiments into space - be it for business or educational spaceflight opportunities...and to fit any budget.
For as low as just a few hundred dollars, for example, a person or company can fly into space an experiment or payload--or even a new product, novelty, or personal item--and recover it safely.
According to UP Aerospace officials, from project initiation to space launch can be as little as two months--depending on the payload availability of a selected flight.
Over 50 payloads and experiments, from across the U.S and Europe will fly on the Spaceport America's inaugural rocket flight slated for the last week of September.
"We'll be conducting a second space launch very soon after the first," Larson pointed out. The second rocket, he said, is ready to go and carries a special payload for a private company.
A third space launch of UP Aerospace will occur in tandem with the X Prize Cup event in October. At that time, through a partnership with Space Services, Inc., the cremated remains of both James Doohan, the actor who portrayed "Scotty" in the original Star Trek series, and NASA astronaut, Gordon Cooper, will rocket out of Spaceport America. The cremated remains of at least 115 other individuals will also be on that high-profile space flight, Larson explained.
"We're pleased to be able to inaugurate our Earth Return Service with UP Aerospace," stated Charles Chafer, Chief Executive Officer of Space Services, headquartered in Houston, Texas. "For some time, we've been looking for a way to provide a flown keepsake to families as a part of our Memorial Spaceflight Service."
Chafer recalled to SPACE.com that he had spent his early years launching the first commercial suborbital missions from New Mexico--the Consort/Starfire series in the mid 1980s. "It is special for us and our families to be part of the early years of Spaceport America," he said.