X Prize Contenders Forge Onward

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A race for space wouldn't be very dramatic without some struggle and setback, and while the front-runners for the $10 million Ansari X Prize over at Scaled Composites have been humming along (with the substantial help of Paul G. Allen's substantial funding), the pack of challengers deals with daily trials -- and sometimes defeat. The low-tech Armadillo Aerospace team, in Texas, lost their vehicle in a test last Sunday when it ran out of propellant and fell 600 feet, smashing on impact. "$35,000 of rocket is now a whole lot of primo Armadillo Droppings," the team reported at their Web site. On Saturday, the Canadian Arrow team drop-tested its crew cabin, with better results. The cabin fell about 9,000 feet and gently splashed into Lake Ontario beneath a parachute. The group told MSNBC it needs about another $2 million in funding and four or five months more of tests to complete its space vehicle. With the X Prize set to expire at the end of this year, and the goal so elusive, why do these teams persevere? The X Prize organizers say the $10 million incentive is just a tease. According to their market research, space tourism is ready to blast off into a billion-dollar industry.