Near-Space A Crowded Place…

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X Prize Also-Rans Still In Hunt

The all but empty reaches of near space could get noticeably more crowded in coming years if all who plan to exploit its potential get their projects off the ground. Although Burt Rutan and Paul Allen's Mojave Space Ventures claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize as the first privately funded effort to reach 100 kilometers in altitude (twice in two weeks) last October, that didn't end the race for near space. Since then other groups involved in the X Prize competition have continued to work toward repeating the feat. The Canadian da Vinci Project was trying to give the Mojave team a run for the big prize but equipment delays prevented their planned October launch of a giant balloon as a first stage and a rocket for the final push. In early December, the team announced completion of the massive helium-filled balloon that will carry the rocket Wildfire to 70,000 feet. The launch is still on hold, however, and no date has been announced.