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X Prize may bring economic boom

Published by Robin on Fri Dec 17, 2004 1:20 am
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By Michael Shinabery, Staff Writer, Alamagordo News
Dec 16, 2004, 03:18 pm

New Mexico is famous for soaring balloonists. But come 2005 those daring young men and women will lift off from the Tularosa Basin in a different sort of flying machine.

Come on Rocket Man, light my fire.

The Ansari X-Prize Cup competition’s first event of what is expected to be an annual competition in southern New Mexico is tentatively scheduled for July 2005. It is step two in the foundation spurring commercial space development among the private sector.

In October the foundation achieved step one when it awarded a $10 million prize to aircraft designer Burt Rutan. He headed the first non-governmental group to put three people at least 62 miles into the air, land and relaunch within two weeks. Rutan accomplished the feat in SpaceShipOne, on Oct. 4 in California’s Mojave Desert. On its second fight his craft actually reached 377,591 feet or 71 1/2 miles.

The competition could be an economic windfall throughout Otero County if the 30,000 spectators who showed up in the Mojave are any indication. New Mexico Economic Development Department Secretary Rick Homans is even more optimistic.

He envisions 150,000 to 200,000 people attending the yearly events in southern New Mexico. Peter Mitchell, the department’s executive director, predicts a $6 billion impact.

While the official site has been designated in Upham, nothing has been built there yet. Estimated costs include $86 million for the runway, and another $10 million for infrastructure and telemetry technology.

Earlier this year in Alamogordo, Mitchell asked U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) for federal assistance.

In the interim, events will be centered around White Sands Space Harbor, 6 1/2 miles west of Tularosa.

NASA Space Shuttle astronauts now train at the Harbor.
X-Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis expects 10 to 20 launches weekly during the two-to-three week events at White Sands, as designers hone their aircrafts and strive to set new records.

Mitchell sees trade fairs and educational opportunities for high school, college and trade school students, along with worldwide Web broadcasts and rides for the public. For the first time in its more than 60-year history, humans will be allowed to launch from the U.S. Army base.

The location for the X-Prize Cup events was no less competitive. New Mexico beat out California, Florida and Oklahoma because, according to Mitchell, the coastal states have dense air traffic. Air space is restricted over White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base. WSMR also has historical data on more than 45,000 post-World War II overland rocket and missile flights.

Earlier this year Mitchell said space-related companies have already expressed interest in moving into southern New Mexico.

“There’s always the potential of some of these companies relocating to our community,” said Southwest Space Task Force member Cathy Mason, an Alamogordo resident.

Several officials have said the only hurdle to the first Cup competition in summer 2005 is the signing of the contract between state attorney general’s office and the Ansari X-Prize Foundation. The contract is apparently sitting on the AG’s desk.

The office did not return a phone call.

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