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Alive 7

             The Real Space Race!

For those of us fed up with news of the failure of the 'official', ie, Nasa
space programme, with the explosive re-entry of the Space Shuttle Columbia,
earlier  this  year,  you  might  want  to  take  heart  from  those  brave
individuals  and groups who are trying to win a $10 million prize  for  the
first private spaceflight,  100km above the Earth's surface,  in a reusable

To make it more interesting, or difficult, the homebrew X-Prize winner must
be able to carry three people that distance,  twice,  and preferably in one

In spite of these difficulties, it seems that several people are willing to
take a crack at this, here are some of their stories...

Armadillo Aerospace:

The  man  who created 'Doom',  and 'Quake',  and who is responsible for the
millions  of  spin-offs,  John Carmack,  has a nine-strong team working  on
their  entry,  an  experimental platform lifted by very precisely  computer
controlled  Hydrogen  peroxide  rockets.  They are at the  early  prototype
stage, with a full-sized version still to follow.

The Da Vinci Project:

This  Canadian entry uses a hybrid balloon-rocket concept to get  into  the
higher reaches of space.  A helium balloon acts as the first stage, lifting
the  'Wildfire' craft to 24km,  whereupon kerosene-powered engines kick in.
The  rocket  vertically  'launches' at this point,  flies into  space,  and
returns  on  an  experimental  parachute.  An attempt  on  the  X-Prize  is
scheduled for summer 2003.

Suborbital Corporation:

Never  count  the  Russians  out,  as space  pioneers,  Sputnik  fans,  and
trailblazers  of  advanced forms of cruelty to animals take their  shot  at
winning the X-Prize. (Do you *still* think they got Laika back safely?!)

This uses a three-person mini-shuttle 'Cosmopolis-M', piggybacked on a high
altitude  M55X  spyplane to 20km,  at which point,  the 'Cosmopolis-M's own
solid  rockets  take  over,  burn out,  detach,  and the spacecraft  glides
upwards to the 100km limit. It lands on a runway like a normal aircraft.

Bristol Spaceplanes:

This  UK-based  plan seems to be stuck on the drawing  board  without  much
funding  at the moment.  It is inspired by the 1960's X-15 spaceplane,  and
the 'Ascender'  craft would use a dual  jet/rocket propulsion system to get
itself to the X-Prize.

Scaled Composites:

A  radical but serious contender,  as Burt Rutan,  the man who put together
the  Voyager non-stop global circumnavigating aircraft,  plans his entry on
aircraft  technology  too.  A previously developed altitude  record  holder
aircraft  called  'Proteus'  will  fly up  to  11.2km  before  releasing  a
piggybacked rocket plane which flies up to the 100km altitude.

This entry is considered to be the frontrunner for the X-Prize,  bearing in
mind  that  they are an experienced team,  and much of the  technology  for
their X-Prize attempt is already in place and tested.

Canadian Arrow:

This second Canadian entry goes back to a murky past, with technology based
on  the  German WW2 V2 ballistic missile.  This operates as a  classic  two
state  rocket,  and parachute recovery of the capsule.  There is an attempt
scheduled for 2003, but it is debatable if they will make that deadline, as
you just can't get the slave labour to build the thing anymore!

Starchaser Industries:

The  other  UK entry has had a little bit of media coverage,  usually  when
something he made exploded on a beach somewhere,  filmed for the benefit of
the  cynical cameras on the hunt for an oddment to fill the end segment  of
the evening news.  Still,  Steve Bennett seems to be getting better at this
rocketry thing,  as the 11m tall 'Nova' made a successful test flight,  and
the follow-up full-sized prize entry, called 'Thunderbird' will test fly in
Australia sometime this year.

This  will  utilise a solid rocket booster,  with a lox/kerosene engine  to
take over in the higher reaches of the flight. If all goes well, the actual
X-Prize flight will take place in October 2004.

Pioneer Rocketplane:

Pioneer  XP,  the  entry  from this Californian team,  uses  a  rocketplane
concept,  with this one able to take off by itself,  using conventional jet
engines,  then kerosene powered rocket engines higher up. It will land like
a conventional aircraft.  The designers include people who were involved in
some  of  the X-series rocketplanes built by Nasa,  and the company  has  a
track  record in developing vehicles to put payloads into orbit.  These are
considered a serious X-Prize contender,  even though a prototype has yet to
be built.

CiH, For Alive Mag,Feb '03

Alive 7