...As Your Trip To Space Inches Closer

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At the same time, infrastructure is growing in support of the nascent industry. Last week, the FAA held its second annual International Aviation Safety Forum in Washington, D.C., and commercial space flight was added to the other more traditional topics on the agenda. Speakers for the space forum included SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic President William Whitehorn, as well as former astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson and space tourist Dennis Tito. Also last week, NASA announced two new Centennial Challenge prize competitions that it is offering for new space technology, in collaboration with the X Prize Foundation. The Suborbital Payload Challenge prize will go for a reusable suborbital rocket that reaches altitudes or speeds of interest to science researchers, and the Suborbital Lunar Lander Analog Challenge will reward the first team to build a vertical takeoff/vertical landing suborbital vehicle capable of reaching a speed consistent with the energy required to land and launch from the moon. Each prize will be at least $250,000, NASA said. "These prizes are intended to accelerate the development of the suborbital launch industry while also demonstrating technologies and capabilities relevant to other NASA activities," said NASA Centennial Challenges Manager Brant Sponberg. The project is contingent on getting the funding and signing a final agreement with the X Prize folks, NASA said. Meanwhile, the first X Prize Cup event, held in Mexico earlier this month, was a success. And Virgin Galactic has collected $10 million in deposits from passengers ready to book a flight into space on the fleet of SpaceShipTwo ships now in the works.