Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ansari X Prize
The Ansari X Prize (formerly the X Prize) was a US$10,000,000 prize, offered by the X PRIZE Foundation, for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space and repeat the feat within two weeks in the same spacecraft. It was modelled after early 20th century aviation prizes, and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. The prize was won on October 4 2004, exactly 47 years after the launch of Sputnik 1, by the Tier One project using the experimental spaceplane SpaceShipOne.
The contest winner was to be the first team to launch a piloted spacecraft, carrying at least three crewmembers (or one human pilot and payload equivalent to two more), to an altitude of at least 100 kilometers (328,100 ft or 62.14 mi), and then repeat the feat using the same spacecraft within two weeks. Reaching orbit was not a goal, and so all the competitors aimed to make suborbital flights only. The spacecraft were permitted to land at the same site that they launched from. The 100 km target is the boundary of space as defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
The two competitive flights were required to be made by the same vehicle. With the exception of propellant, no more than 10% of the vehicle could be replaced between flights; the rest of the vehicle must be reused. Even NASA's Space Shuttle falls short of this performance requirement, since it takes much more than two weeks to ready a given shuttle between flights. The vehicle must be intact and theoretically reusable after the second flight, and the crew must return unharmed.
Altitudes achieved were measured by three separate systems. There was a flight recorder, referred to as the "gold box", carried on each competitive flight, and two separate radar systems were used. Official altitudes were determined by a compromise between the three systems.
Teams were forbidden to accept government funding for their efforts. Private sponsors were acceptable, however.
The X Prize was designed to help encourage the space industry in the private sector, which is why the entries were not allowed to have any government funding. It aimed to demonstrate that spaceflight can be affordable and accessible to corporations and civilians, opening the door to commercial spaceflight and space tourism. It is also hoped that competition will breed innovation, introducing new low-cost methods of reaching Earth orbit. If everything goes as planned, the X Prize winners could become pioneers of low-cost space travel and unfettered human expansion into the solar system.
The X Prize was modeled after many prizes from the early 20th century that helped prod the development of air flight, including notably the $25,000 Orteig Prize that spurred Charles Lindbergh to make his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. NASA is developing similar prize programs called Centennial Challenges to generate innovative solutions to space technology problems.
27 teams from around the world participated, ranging from volunteer hobbyists to large corporate-backed operations:
- Acceleration Engineering
- Advent Launch Services
- Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Assoc. (ARCA)
- Armadillo Aerospace
- American Astronautics Corporation (Now AERA)
- Bristol Spaceplanes, Ltd
- Canadian Arrow
- The da Vinci Project
- Pablo de Leon & Associates (www.pablodeleon.com )
- Discraft Corporation
- Flight Exploration
- Fundamental Technology Systems
- IL Aerospace Technologies
- Interorbital Systems
- Kelly Space and Technology
- Lone Star Space Access Corporation
- Micro-Space, Inc.
- PanAero, Inc.
- Pioneer Rocketplane, Inc.
- Scaled Composites' Tier One project
- Starchaser Industries
- Suborbital Corporation
- TGV Rockets
- Vanguard Spacecraft
This contestant list notably did not include traditional space access companies like Boeing and Lockheed, which many in the industry believe to be incapable of replacing their present space transportation vehicles with low-cost alternatives. These critics claim as evidence the companies' several failed attempts to do so, such as the X-33 project, on contract from NASA and other U.S. government agencies. However, the X Prize Foundation itself did not ban these companies from applying, so long as they could prove their efforts on this project would be free of government funding.
The da Vinci Project is in second place, being the only other team to have given notice of their planned competitive flights. They originally announced that their first flight would be on October 2 2004, but this was postponed indefinitely on September 23 2004, as they were unable to obtain a few necessary components in time. They have not announced a revised timetable.
The X PRIZE Foundation reports that two other teams are nearly ready to make test flights, and may compete before the end of 2004. The Canadian Arrow is considered the third place project at the moment.
Created in May 1996 and initially called just "X Prize", it was renamed "Ansari X Prize" on May 6, 2004 following a multimillion dollar donation from Iranian-born entrepreneurs Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari.
The X PRIZE Foundation, (based at the St. Louis Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri), maintains a list of organizations registered to compete for the prize. Some companies developed their craft in secret, not publicly announcing their plans until they were ready to request air/space permission from their local government. Such was the case with Scaled Composites, a company that remained unknown as a competitor until April 2003.
List of major donors by order of donation
- Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari
- First USA (J.P. Morgan Chase), $1,000,000 USD
- New Spirit of St. Louis Organization
- Danforth Foundation , $500,000 USD
- Tom Clancy, $100K–$500K
- J.S. McDonnell (McDonnell Douglas)
- Andrew Taylor
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car
- Andrew Beal
- Beal Bank
- St. Louis Science Center
- St. Louis, Missouri
- NASA Centennial Challenges
- List of prizes
- Prizes named after people
- America's Space Prize
- Methuselah_Mouse_Prize (modelled after the Ansari X Prize)
Related technical topics:
- Ansari X Prize official site
- Ansari X Prize Space Race News
- Manned Sub-Orbital Space Transportation Vehicles -- a detailed technical study of the challenge of suborbital and orbital flight
- Yahoo! News - SpaceShipOne Readies Run at $10 Mln Prize
- (Rubicon 1 un-manned test) X-prize contender rocket explodes
- Tier One (SpaceShipOne) Homepage
- Going Private: The Promise and Danger of Space Travel -- a study of the future of spaceflight and its possible risks
- FAI Rules for Astronautic Record Attempts
- press release: SpaceShipOne reaches over 360,000 feet to win the $10 million ANSARI X PRIZE
- "The X Prize", an article by Ian Parker on pages 52 – 63 of the 4 October 2004 issue of The New Yorker
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