Showtime for Spaceship Builders
Among displays at this month’s X Prize Cup is the prototype Thunderstar passenger-carrying capsule designed by Starchaser Industries, Ltd. Image
Credit: Starchaser Industries, Ltd.

Those caught in the whirlwind of the personal spaceflight business--the builders, shakers, dreamers and schemers--will be found this month at the Wirefly X Prize Cup, set for October 20-21 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Given the sweep of hardware and plans to be detailed, it's clear that future ticket-holding space voyagers can pick from any number of vehicles to start chalking up frequent flyer mileage.

"The Wirefly X Prize Cup is a one-stop-shop where you can meet your peers, potential customers, potential investors, and lot of fellow space enthusiasts ... all at the same time," said William Pomerantz, Director of Space Projects at the X Prize Foundation in Santa Monica, California.

Pomerantz noted that the space industry has always had its fair share of conferences for academics and hardware developers alike. The Cup is a fundamentally different event, though.

"It's not an event about PowerPoint slides. It's a show for real ideas, real hardware, full-scale mock-ups, and experimental flights," Pomerantz said. "If you are looking to enter the industry in any way, it's a meeting-place for everyone you need to know and everything you need to see."

During the Cup's two-day run this year, the 42-foot Canadian Arrow will be showcased, as will a full-scale replica of SpaceShipOne--the piloted rocket plane that won the Ansari X Prize in 2004 by flying back-to-back suborbital missions. But new designs and up-and-coming developers will have their hardware on display.

Storming the heavens

For Steve Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of Starchaser Industries, Ltd., he's readying a progress report on his firm's Storm rocket engine.

"Storm is currently scheduled for its first static firings from a test site in Northern England for early November," Bennett said. "The engine will be the biggest rocket engine to be fired in the United Kingdom in over 35 years, since the British Government cancelled the UK national space launch program in 1971," he observed.

Storm is important for Starchaser, Bennett noted, as it is the propulsion system, both for the organization's reusable Skybolt sounding rocket and for a version of their Starchaser 5 people-carrying rocket.

Starchaser Industries is the first private space company to establish a New Mexico presence in response to the development of New Mexico's spaceport. The company plans to develop a 120-acre site, called Rocket City, to the west of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico.

Ferrari-like space travel

Several announcements are forthcoming from Brian Feeney, Team Leader for Canada's The da Vinci Project, based in Toronto, Ontario.

Feeney said that a new spacecraft design--designated the XF1--will be spotlighted. The XF1 is a single person suborbital spaceflight technology demonstrator and test bed. On display, he said, is a one-third scale prototype.

The XF1 is a functional test bed to demonstrate recovery to stabilized reentry from all reentry profiles. "The one-third scale prototype follows initial successful testing of the new design. It will be dropped from 70,000 feet early next year to demonstrate high altitude stabilized recovery as well as test launch procedures," Feeney explained.

"The da Vinci Project continues to push the envelope in the field of commercial space tourism," Feeney said. "At the X Prize Cup we will unveil the new XF1 prototype spacecraft design, a one man spaceflight test bed for a two-person and nine-person commercial space tourism spacecraft."

The full scale XF1 is under construction now and will be ready for testing by mid 2007. It will employ a new liquid rocket propulsion system. This is a winged space aircraft design and reflects both the technology and design approach for The da Vinci Project's space tourism business model.

"I think everyone is going to be wowed when they see the XF1," Feeney proclaimed. "It is a powerful new design approach for our young industry, deliberately making its own unique design statement. If Ferrari were to step into the space tourism ring...this is pretty much what you'd expect from them," he said.

Strategic partners

Another personal spaceflight favorite at the Cup is Rocketplane Kistler of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They'll roll out an 80 percent scale Rocketplane XP mockup, the firm's first generation suborbital vehicle as well as few surprises.

"We will have several of our strategic partners with us," said Chuck Lauer, Director of Business Development for Rocketplane.

For instance, the Hokkaido Aerospace Science Technology Incubation Center (HASTIC) in Japan will be displaying the full scale mockup of their advanced hybrid rocket, which has its first launch in December, Lauer explained. "We will be adopting this rocket to use as an upper stage to be launched from the XP for microsatellite launch and other research applications ... like scramjet testing."

HASTIC is also Rocketplane's lead for microgravity research flights in Japan using the XP, and is their development partner for the proposed Hokkaido Spaceport, Lauer stated.

Lauer said that their team members will also conduct focus group interviews with volunteer X Prize Cup attendees. What they want to glean from prospective Rocketplane XP travelers, he continued, are "must have" space cabin features, including preference testing for different window sizes and locations in the cabin.

"We should be able to interview several hundred people over the two days of the event," Lauer said. "So a small percentage of the crowd will actually be able to participate by contributing to the design of our spaceplane interior."

Significant relationships

The Wirefly X Prize Cup is a magnet for groups that want to showcase their business blueprints in creating public space travel opportunities.

For example, space entrepreneurs from around the world will also gather in Las Cruces just prior to the X Prize Cup festivities. They'll take part in the 2nd Annual International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight (ISPS 2006), to be held October 17-18.

"I believe there has been great progress for the personal spaceflight industry over the past year as indicated by increasing partnerships with significant players including the relationship of Lockheed Martin with Bigelow Aerospace, NASA with SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler, as well as the evolution of SpaceDev's business," said Patricia Hynes, director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium and co-chair of the symposium.

Hynes said the two-day ISPS is designed to highlight the rapid growth in personal spaceflight.

"Progress, potential and significant partnerships are the story this year," Hynes told SPACE.com. "That's what I have seen for the vehicles, their companies and the industry...as we get ready for the ISPS and the X Prize Cup this year."

Detailed information about the 2nd Annual International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight symposium, to be held October 17-18 at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum can be found on the ISPS web site:

http://spacegrant.nmsu.edu/isps/2006/

For tickets to attend the October 20-21 Wirefly X Prize Cup, go to:

http://www.xprizecup.com