Canadian Team Sets Launch Date For X Prize

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It seems we have a race for space ... the underdog da Vinci Project, from Canada, rolled out their Wild Fire spacecraft last Thursday in Toronto, and while they were at it, they said they plan to launch for the $10 million X Prize on Oct. 2 (the Paul G. Allen / Burt Rutan SpaceShipOne will make a first attempt Sept. 29). The project, which has depended on a volunteer workforce numbering in the hundreds, also announced it has secured major sponsorship from GoldenPalace.com, an online casino. Their plan is to carry a three-seat rocket-powered capsule to 80,000 feet beneath a helium balloon, disengage, light the fires, ride the rocket into space, and fall back to earth beneath a parachute. Yup. "We're very close to achieving our mission," da Vinci Project leader and pilot Brian Feeney said in a statement. "The da Vinci Project is on the cusp of a new era of space travel for humankind." The project has designated a launch site in Saskatchewan, where there are lots of wide-open spaces for landing. Burt Rutan's team at Mojave already has announced it will launch Sept. 29 and make a second flight on Oct. 4. But Rutan said at Oshkosh that he has planned for three launches just in case, so there's no guarantee his SpaceShipOne will reach the required altitude on the first try. Of course, there's no guarantee the Canadian team will make it either -- they have never flown their system at all. The two teams are among 26 around the world seeking the prize, which is intended to promote the development of a nongovernmental manned spaceflight industry. To win, each team must launch twice within two weeks, and climb to 100 kilometers.