LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The ribbon was cut on the opening day here at the Wirefly X Prize Cup--billed as Earth's great space exposition.
The Cup is taking place here at the Las Cruces International Airport October 20-21, keyed to the advancement of future private space travel.
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 three-day affair involves plenty of roaring rockets, privately-built spaceships and cash awards.
One of the highlights of the cup will be the NASA-sponsored Lunar Lander Challenge to be held October 20-21. NASA is providing $2 million in prize money for a Lunar Lander Challenge, partnered with Northrop Grumman Corporation as the title sponsor for the contest.
"When I look around here I see spaceships...our passion for space," said X Prize Foundation leader, Peter Diamandis.
A ribbon cutting ceremony including such notables as Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Rick Homans, Spaceport Authority Chairman and New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary.
The first rocket to fly at the Cup, a large silver rocket of Tripoli Rockets, shot into the sky, trailing a white contrail contrasted with the blue New Mexico sky. Tearing off its launch pad, the Tripoli rocket rose to high altitude to the applause of crowds.
Becoming a small dot in the sky, the rocket failed to produce a parachute. Arcing over, the rocket became, what one viewer called: "Lawn dart!" The rocket hit the ground at high speed.
As children of all ages crowded into the Cup, Rocketman Dan Schlund took to the sky boosted by rocket backpack. The deafening roar from his powerful rocket jets eclipsed the applause as Schlund blasted off.
"I tried to keep it straight" Schlund explained, "and I had just two seconds of fuel left," he said after touching back down from his over-the-runway flight.
Technical snags have held up the first flight of the Armadillo Aerospace's rocket, a participant in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. The vertical takeoff and landing craft was tested on Thursday, flying in tethered and untethered mode.
"They had a great shakeout flight," said Bill Gaubatz, lead judge of the Lunar Lander competition. "They have made some final adjustments and are ready to go today," he told SPACE.com.
The Rocket Racing League (RRL) is an aerospace entertainment organization which combines the competition of racing with the excitement of rocketry.