Rutan Has Competition In Space Race

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SpaceShipOne will be going for the gold on its next forays to the edge of space. Scaled Composites President Burt Rutan told Wired News last week the history-making private spacecraft, whose somewhat troubled first flight on June 21 was the first privately funded, civilian-crewed space flight, will attempt three flights within a two-week span to try to claim the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE. He said they've fixed the actuator problem that caused an uncommanded 90-degree roll and sent the space plane 20 miles off course on its maiden flight. The X PRIZE requires only two flights, with a payload equal to that of two large adults and the pilot, within two weeks, but Rutan said the third flight is scheduled in case one of the others has to be scrubbed. Rutan didn't tell Wired when the attempt would be made but pilot Mike Melvill told MSNBC it would likely be near the end of September. And that tightens the time frame for an upstart Canadian effort that's trying to beat Rutan to the $10 million. Although most of the X PRIZE attention has been on the well-heeled effort in Mojave, a self-taught engineer from Toronto hopes to rocket away with the cash. "We're definitely in contention against Rutan," Brian Feeney, head of the da Vinci Project, told Wired. The team is developing Wild Fire, a rocket that will be first hoisted to about 70,000 feet by a helium balloon before blasting to the edge of space. Feeney plans to fly Wild Fire himself from the launch site in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, about 250 miles east of Calgary, Alberta,s and has hinted he will be ready about the same time as Rutan, in late September. The rocket portion of Wild Fire is a two-stage affair. After accelerating to about 2,500 mph, the booster will separate from a bullet-shaped capsule, which will then ride the momentum of the shot to about 110 kilometers before parachuting back to earth. The whole ride will take about 25 minutes. We'll leave the question of who would pay for this type of experience to the da Vinci Project's marketing people.