Headlines > News > Las Vegas Hotel Mogul Launches $50 Million Space Prize

Las Vegas Hotel Mogul Launches $50 Million Space Prize

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Oct 6, 2004 1:36 am
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reuters.com: LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A Las Vegas hotel magnate who is hoping to build the world’s first commercial space stations offered $50 million on Monday to the creators of the first privately funded spaceship to reach orbit.
Robert Bigelow, who owns Budget Suites of America, launched his challenge a day after the first privately funded spaceship rocketed out of the atmosphere and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize designed to spur commercial space flight.

Bigelow acknowledged that reaching orbit would be much harder than briefly popping into space as SpaceShipOne did.

“To be honest, “I think it’s a long shot,” he said of any team’s chances of winning the prize by 2010 as required.
SpaceShipOne, built by aircraft designer Burt Rutan and financier Paul Allen, had to travel at about three times the speed of sound in order to reach the 62-mile altitude required to win the Ansari X Prize.
An orbital spacecraft has to travel six times faster and four times higher, and, like NASA’s Space Shuttle, also requires extensive heat shielding.

Even so, Bigelow said, a commercial orbital spacecraft is “something the United States very badly needs.”

Bigelow’s space station company, Bigelow Aerospace, also needs it. With the Space Shuttle off-limits to paying passengers and the Russian Space Agency charging $20 million per seat on its Soyuz ships, a commercial craft could provide the only affordable way for the company to reach orbit.

In addition to the prize money, Bigelow said, the winner of his America’s Space Prize stands to gain contracts from Bigelow Aerospace to ferry passengers to and from its stations.
Bigelow Aerospace plans to launch its first space modules on commercial rockets in late 2008 or early 2009, and to send up the first crews by 2010.
The company plans to make a profit by selling standardized space-station modules, complete with life support systems and living quarters, for $100 million each.
Bigelow sees industrial and medical research as the most important uses for the modules, but says they could also serve as space hotels.
Bigelow will front half of the $50 million America’s Space Prize and he is seeking sponsorship for the other half.

“If no one steps forward, we’ll cover it,” he said. “We just want to make it happen.”

To win the contest, which is limited to U.S.-based ventures, a team must build a five-seat spacecraft without government money and send five astronauts into orbit above the Earth twice within 60 days.

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