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Alan Boyle: Stay tuned on space tourism

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Jan 12, 2005 8:51 am
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chabot imageBy Alan Boyle: In the wake of all the X Prize excitement, private-sector space entrepreneurs are absorbed in the more down-to-earth aspects of their projects. Virginia-based Space Adventures, for example, is still checking out potential spaceport sites in Australia and plans to make an announcement by the end of March. (Originally, a decision was to have been announced by now.)

In that same time frame, Space Adventures also plans to name its next candidate for a multimillion-dollar trip to the international space station. (The previous candidate, entrepreneur/inventor Greg Olsen, was grounded last year due to health concerns.)

Meanwhile, the Canadian-based Golden Palace / Da Vinci space effort is still engaged in ground-based engine testing for its balloon-launched Wildfire rocket, says da Vinci team leader Brian Feeney.

“We’re not going to fly anything this winter at all,” Feeney told me today. He’s now aiming for an unmanned launch from Saskatchewan in late spring, with two piloted launches to follow during the summer.

Some might question whether Wildfire will ever fly, now that the $10 million Ansari X Prize has been taken off the table. But Feeney says the da Vinci volunteer effort is still “alive and well” — and what’s more, he plans to show off the engineering drawings for a second-generation, eight-person spaceship Jan. 30 at the Canadian Student Summit on Aerospace.

“It’s a rippin’ design,” he said.

The prospects for getting that spaceship, known for now as Tiger Shark or Project Tiger, off the drawing board depend on whether Feeney can find tens of millions of dollars in financial backing. Feeney is hoping that success with the X Prize-class flights this summer will spark investor interest.

Is there really money to be made? Private-spaceflight enthusiasts are abuzz over a Motley Fool commentary on “Stocks’ Final Frontier,” as well as the Wired magazine feature on Virgin tycoon Richard Branson’s space aspirations. The next few months are sure to be interesting — or disappointing.

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