Image: EZ-Rocket
Rocket Racing League / XCOR Aerospace
XCOR Aerospace's EZ-Rocket plane makes a banking turn during a practice run in preparation for the Personal Spaceflight Exposition in Las Cruces, N.M.
By Senior space writer
updated 10/4/2005 1:42:48 PM ET 2005-10-04T17:42:48

Preparations are in full swing for the Countdown to the X Prize Cup — a celebration of a new generation of private passenger-carrying spaceships built for speed and to foster space tourism.

An array of spaceship concepts — and the entrepreneurs, engineers and pilots behind them — will be spotlighted during a Spaceflight Exposition, to be held here Sunday at the Las Cruces International Airport.

Peter Diamandis is the mastermind behind the Countdown to the X Prize Cup, and is chairman and chief executive officer of the X Prize Foundation.

"My goal is to create an event that will be the Oshkosh or Grand Prix of space — an event that will attract space fans and families from around the world who want to come and see these rocket-powered ships fly, and meet the entrepreneurs building them," Diamandis told

At the Spaceflight Exposition, the action-packed lineup includes:

  • Multiple flights of Armadillo Aerospace’s vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle.
  • Flights of XCOR’s EZ-Rocket.
  • Engine firing of a full-scale Starchaser liquid oxygen/kerosene engine.
  • Full-scale replicas of SpaceShipOne, the Canadian Arrow and other vehicles.

On Monday, Diamandis also revealed that a confab of private rocketeers will establish the Rocket Racing League — a fleet of at least 10 stock rocket planes flown by hot-shot pilots through a three-dimensional track high above Earth.

Envisioned is a NASCAR-like competition with regional contests leading to a final showdown for prize money, Diamandis told reporters during Monday's New York news conference. That final face-off would be held each year in Las Cruces.

Sure-fire rocket star
One sure-fire hit at this week’s expo is the XCOR Aerospace EZ-Rocket.

XCOR Aerospace, based in Mojave, Calif., will conduct multiple flight tests of their rocket plane — a step toward the company’s vision of developing a suborbital business.

Slipping into the EZ-Rocket seat will be pilot Richard Searfoss, a former shuttle astronaut.

"He has been practicing a whole new airshow routine," said Rich Pournelle, XCOR’s director of business development. Also on tap, the craft will do in-flight restarts and touch-and-go landings, he said.

"We’ve been working hard getting the EZ-Rocket airshow ready. It’s one thing to do a test on your own schedule. It is another to it in front of a big crowd, on a schedule and hundreds of miles away from the shop," Pournelle said.

Diversity of approaches
An objective of the expo is to show the diversity of approaches to personal space travel, not only in the United States, but around the globe.

"People will be able to see things that are being done in other areas of the country, and the world, said Aleta Jackson, an XCOR Aerospace executive. "Those of us who have been working so hard on our projects will have an opportunity to meet the very people who we want to sell rides to, or whom we might want to hire," she said.

Jackson said the upcoming exposition also reveals a truism: "Building and flying rocket-powered vehicles is not limited to a few, but can be done by anyone who has the knowledge, will and ambition."

"Space development offers a hopeful future to all of us," Jackson said.

Big results from small budgets
Diamandis pointed out that it has been a year since Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

"The winning of the Ansari X Prize changed the paradigm that spaceflight had to be developed by large governments," Diamandis explained. "It showed that the private sector, through small entrepreneurial companies with bright young talent, could achieve big results with small budgets, in relatively short periods of time. It showed that prizes and competitions are one very effective means to achieve success."

There is much work yet to do, Diamandis added.

"Now we must keep the competition going, and help push the envelope faster, higher, and cheaper, to build the safe spaceships that will carry all of us to space. To this end, we have partnered with the state of New Mexico to create the X Prize Cup, to attract tens of thousands of people each year to New Mexico to see the spaceships of tomorrow take racing to new heights," Diamandis said.

Schedule of events
The 2005 Countdown to the X Prize Cup activities, scheduled for Oct. 6-9, includes:

  • A public symposium on the future of spaceflight at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces on Thursday.
  • Educational and public activities at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo on Friday and Saturday.
  • The Personal Spaceflight Expo at the Las Cruces International Airport on Sunday.

Check the Countdown to the X Prize Cup Web site for details about activities and related events.

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