X Prize: Next Stop, Mojave

Cimg1357_2I’ll be out in the Mojave Desert the next couple of days covering the first of the launches for the X Prize. If you haven’t been following the X Prize, you’ve been missing my peerless coverage at Wired News. Well, I wish it was peerless, anyway. The X Prize is a worldwide competition offering $10 million to the first privately financed group than can launch a three-man mini-spaceship on a suborbital flight to 100 kilometers (suborbital means you fly up and return to Earth without going into orbit), then do it again within two weeks. The prize offer expires at the end of the year. Despite having 26 teams sign up for the prize — a somewhat deceiving number, as only a handful have ever flown anything of consequence — the contest has come down to a single team: American Mojave Aerospace, headed by designer Burt Rutan and funded by Bill Gates’s old high school and college buddy (and my old employer, at a great remove, when I was at TechTV), Paul Allen. They plan to try their first launch Wednesday morning, and the weather down in Mojave looks like it’ll be fine (the wild card seems to be early-morning winds that aren’t necessarily friendly to Rutan’s SpaceShipOne space plane.

Kate and I went down to SpaceShipOne’s successful space launch in June — the picture is of SS1 landing, with a chase plane in the background. It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s the same level of excitement — the same kind of crowd — for this event. More later from the desert.

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