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Am I The Only One?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

X-citing Stuff

Last month the world watched the first commercial space vehicle soar into the blackness and return for a landing in the Mojave desert, earning the pilot a set of Astronaut wings and a place in the history books. The organization, Scaled Composites, is one of several vying for the Ansari X-Prize, a $10-million prize for the first privately-funded organization to launch a 3-person vehicle 100 km high, and then do it again with the same vehicle within a two-week period.

I'll admit it up front, I'm geeked up on this amateur space launch stuff. Scaled Composites has the early lead, and it can't hurt to have Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen funding the project. But the really fascinating teams are the lesser-know ones. In other words, all the other X-Prize teams.

Or at some were unknown, until this week.

One team from Texas, Armadillo Aerospace, is building a hydrogen-peroxide propelled vehicle -- pretty cool stuff to use on a budget. I've been following their test this year, and their prototype consisting of a tank of propellant mounted a custom-made nozzle system. A hand-made on-board computer system with GPS controls the attitude of the craft, allowing it to raise off the ground and hover in place.

On August 8, the fine folks at Armadillo sent their prototype almost 600 feet in the air before it suffered a fuel failure and the vehicle crashed back to earth. Although the vehicle was a total loss, the team can build the prototypes fairly quickly and expect to be testing again in about 5 weeks.

In the mood for something a little scarier? Another X-Prize team from Washington state is building a rocket for about $20,000. This is supposed to carry a human into space, mind you. On August 11 this team tested their rocket on the Olympic peninsula, with a spectacular lack of success.

And yes, the pilot for Space Transport says he's still behind the team's efforts and ready to go. Brave man?


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