X Prize Eve: 09.28.04

In Tehachapi tonight, about 20 miles west of Mojave on California Highway 58, if you’re map-inclined. The town sits in a broad valley amid the peaks of the Tehachapi Mountains, the barrier standing between the lower end of the Central Valley to the west and the Mojave Desert to the east. Didn’t see much of town tonight — got to our motel (I’m here with Garth Patil, a friend from what I’ll call a past work project to avoid a long digression).

Spent the day at the Mojave Airport (which, since it has an FAA license for suborbital space launches, some in town call the Mojave Spaceport). There’s a different feeling now from the June launch. It seemed like many fewer people were showing up at the RV encampment next to the air strip. There was no press conference and no access to the principals at any point during the day. So I guess I’d say there’s something of a muted, anticlimactic feel around the event so far (I’m sure that’s not the feeling for Burt Rutan’s team or for the X Prize people — they’re about to see a big payoff for a lot of work).

Garth and I did manage to crash a little party that another space-launch startup, Xcor Aerospace, was holding in their hangar along the airport flight line. We got to go in and meet a bunch of the local aerospace people and get a rundown on what Xcor is doing (their primary longterm project, if they can get fully financed: developing a suborbital space plane to do “inexpensive” tourist launches (the company they’re working with, Space Adventures, has said they’ll sell tickets for $98,000 apiece; that compares to the $208,000 proposed by Virgin’s Richard Branson for flights on a future spaceplane based on Rutan’s design and technology). In any case, if we are going to have a space tourism industry — and eventually, we will — this is one of the places the hard work of creating it is happening.

We have a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call. That’s six hours and six minutes from now, so I’m going to close right here. More tomorrow.