Headlines > News > Bristol Spaceplanes Talk to The Space Fellowship about the X-Prize, the Ascender and the plan for orbital flights.

Bristol Spaceplanes Talk to The Space Fellowship about the X-Prize, the Ascender and the plan for orbital flights.

Published by Rob on Tue Sep 25, 2007 5:15 pm
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Lately we have noticed that there has still been quite a bit of interest in the original Ansari X-Prize teams. Questions have been asked such as who is still active, are they still progressing and will they be entering into any other competitions in the foreseeable future?

I remember when I first heard about the Ansari X-Prize, a fair while ago. My first thoughts were to look for British Teams and see if they were making progress at all. After seeing a documentary on Starchaser Industries on the Discovery Channel I started to read about Bristol Spaceplanes. I was happily surprised to see a company willing to try and win the prize being under an hour from my home.

Bristol Spaceplanes Limited was formed in 1991 to provide technical assistance and consultancy to commercial organisations and aerospace companies interested in commercial opportunities in space. Reading that David Ashford (Director of Bristol Spaceplanes Limited) had written an early space tourism book “Your Spaceflight Manual – How You Could be a Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years”, by David Ashford and Patrick Collins, I decided the time was right to get in contact.

When I first got into contact with David I was studying for my degree and not really too aware of the issues involved in space tourism. Although I don’t have the E-Mails to hand I clearly remember asking Dave if he had scheduled events coming up. One scheduled event that I wanted to attend was at Farnborough just weeks after the Ansari X-Prize was claimed. Sadly I didn’t manage to attend as I couldn’t get there in time. Although I didn’t get there the 2004 X-Prize hype had got me hooked.

A few years have passed since them and with the new Google Lunar X-Prize being announced and the new developing market I decided to once again get in contact with Dave to see what was happening at Bristol Spaceplanes. Dave was quick to respond and we set up a meeting.

I recently spoke to Randa Milliron CEO of Interorbital about the Google Lunar X-Prize and had comments such as “The Google prize is nice, but it really should have another zero at the end of it, or at least be $100,000,000” (Story found at http://spacefellowship.com/News/?p=3162). Speaking to Dave about the prize his thoughts were:

“Regarding the Google Lunar X-prize, my immediate thought is that any team competing will need the backing of a dot com billionaire, just as Burt Rutan needed Paul Allen to back SpaceShipOne to win the X-Prize. The prize money might just cover the cost, but the timescale is tight and the project is far more complex than any yet undertaken by the private space sector. The risk is that, in order to keep costs down, competitors will not do enough development testing to ensure reliability. The result is likely to be a sort of lunar Beagle 2, i.e., a gallant failure.” He then added “though that he thought the Beagle 2 was in fact a great success in that it led directly to an awakening of interest in space in the UK and hence to HMG becoming a major funder of Aurora. Unintended (??!!) consequences! At the very least, some ingenious low-cost solutions are likely to be proposed, which might stir up NASA, ESA, et al to be more efficient.”

Bristol Spaceplanes were involved in the original Ansari X-prize and I thought it would be interesting to see how they saw the progress made by others since the prize was claimed. Dave’s response was “The X-Prize has clearly provided an enormous boost to the private space industry, which, indeed, was the intention of its founders. Virgin Galactic are planning passenger flights to space by 2010, the FAA are proposing sensible legislation, and several other companies have taken up the challenge.”

A lot has been said in the press since the Ansari X-Prize about teams not being competitive and a lot of questions ask where are they now? Are they still moving forward? Well I put this across to see the views at Bristol Spaceplanes. I asked if there was a place in the industry for Bristol Spaceplanes. “Remarkably, we still have the most competitive designs and marketing strategies. If we get funding soon, we can be among the first to operate sub-orbital passenger space flights. Our aim is to be the first to build an orbital spaceplane, and this is a realistic goal.” It was later added that the one largest problem in space tourism is “Funding”.

Bristol Spaceplanes want to build the Ascender their sub-orbital spaceplane. I asked what would be needed to get it flying quite simply the answer was money. The one thing that seems to be stopping a lot of companies building. He did add however that they have an excellent design, an excellent team, and access to all the required technology. I asked what the plan was for the coming decade and what it held for Bristol Spaceplanes and their space efforts. Dave said firstly they want to build a prototype of the ascender ASAP. Secondly, get the Ascender into service then thirdly go on to build and fly the first orbital Spaceplane.

Since the Ansari X-Prize was captured in 2004 I thought it would be interesting to go to Dave and ask if there are any teams he looks out for or anyone in the industry they still keep in contact with for business reasons amongst many he said “At some stage, we will probably look for industrial partners. These are more likely to be established engineering companies looking to expand their business than X-Prize teams.”

The Space Fellowship would like to thank Bristol Spaceplanes for their time and commitment to helping us with this story. We wish them all the best of luck with their projects and hope to be in contact with them as they progress to space tourism.

Visit Bristol Spaceplanes and keep up to date with their progress at http://www.bristolspaceplanes.com

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