X Prize Cup Founders and Spaceport America Look to the Future
Engine engineering for XCOR Aerospace is led by Jeff Greason - a Mojave, California firm. XCOR is providing the rocket engine and integration work for the Rocket Racing League's X-Racer rocket planes. Image
CREDIT: SPACE.com/William Faulkner
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The dust hasn't yet settled at this year's Wirefly X Prize Cup, but both the event's founders and participants are taking a look at next year's event and beyond.
The cup was founded by the creators the Ansari X Prize, the $10 million prize package offered to anyone who could launch a re-usable sub-orbital spacecraft, capable of carrying passengers, twice in a two week period.
The prize was won on October 4, 2004 by SpaceShipOne, a revolutionary spacecraft designed by maverick aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and financed by Microsoft co-founder and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen.
Building on the success of that competition, the WireFly X Prize Cup was launched in 2005. The two-day affair involves plenty of roaring rockets, privately-built spaceships and cash awards.
Next year's festivities will showcase the Rocket Racing League's X-Racer--a rocket plane powered by a powerful liquid oxygen/kerosene rocket engine. The Rocket Racing League (RRL) is an aerospace entertainment organization which combines the competition of air racing with the excitement of rocketry.
XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, California is led by Jeff Greason, with his team providing the workhorse engine for the Rocket Racing League. Their team is now busy at work on the engines, pumps and various components to assure the X-Racer vehicles are ready for flight.
"We're integrating the whole air frame, outfitting the rocket plane with avionics and the propulsion system. We're also doing the flight test prior to delivery to the Rocket Racing League," Greason told SPACE.com.
Greason said they'll be busy wringing out technical and production bugs in an expansive flight test program.
XCOR is also working on a suborbital vehicle--an intermediate craft--that leads to the company's Xerus rocket plane. "The intermediate vehicle we'll put in the air first," Greason added.
Each year, the X Prize Cup here is bringing the public and space technology face to face.
According to John Carmack, head of Armadillo Aerospace--a band of rocketeers from Mesquite, Texas--the hobby shop look to private space endeavors is of great benefit.
"There's a lot to be said for the inspiration factor here. I think the biggest benefit for what we do is that we sort of look like this garage operation. People have called us the cowboy space people," Carmack said.
People look at Armadillo Aerospace hardware and see that they can work on rocketry, too, Carmack explained: "It's not like the [NASA] space shuttle and all this 'shock and awe' of national pride."
His company's suite of rocket hardware shows that non-government groups can advance the state of available space technology. "It's now approachable and can be brought to a level that people can think: 'Hey, this is something I want to do.'"
XCOR's Greason said the evolution of the private space industry is like a lot of other technologies--it's on an exponential growth curve. Therefore, there is no defining breakthrough moment to spotlight. But things are accelerating, he added.
"You can look around and see a lot more happening this year than last year. And I think a lot more is going to happen next year," Greason observed. "I think people get excited about space again when they think some day they might get to go," he said.
Now that more people are sensing that might be a possibility, Greason believes that both private space industry and the national civil space program agenda benefit.
"Exploration is a lot more interesting when you think," Greason said. "Some day, you and your kids might get to go see those places that are being explored."
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Rick Homans, Spaceport Authority Chairman and New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary, said that he's looking forward to next year's flights of the X-racers, competing with each other in a virtual sky track. "That'll be a real crowd pleaser," Homans said.
As for the future of the X Prize Cup, Homans said he wants to increase the numbers of kids attending the yearly event, from all states. Opening day of the Wirefly X Prize Cup saw thousands of kids race through the gates.
"The look on the faces of the kids was just extraordinary. To me, that was so fulfilling in terms of what this is all about," Homans said. The aerospace industry desperately needs a new workforce, with so many now-working experts retiring over the next 10-15 years, he said. "They need to get people interested in math, science and engineering if we're going to be a leader."
Every year at the X Prize Cup, Homans said, there are going to be advances in technology. "So the more we can exhibit, display and show in the latest technology, that's what the X Prize Cup is all about."
Homans said that he's looking for more flights, more launches, more test demonstrations, as well as bring more cash-prize competitions to the X Prize Cup.
A year will also make a big difference at New Mexico's Spaceport America. By roughly this time next year the facility is expecting to earn its license to operate from the Federal Aviation Administration's commercial space transportation office.
By the spring of next year, full design of Spaceport America is to be concluded, Homans said.
"We will begin construction by the end of 2007. This time next year we should be right on the verge of actually breaking ground at the spaceport. That's going to be very exciting," Homans added.
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