25 June 2004
Announcements - Vehicles (Good)
SpaceX Proposes Human Orbital Prize Competition
Falcon One and Falcon Five being developed
by Alan Breakstone
by Alan Breakstone

Elon Musk, president and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), says that he would like to see an X-Prize-style competition for the first commercial human orbital flight. He expressed an interest in SpaceX participating in such a competition. Speaking on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio broadcast today, Musk said he thinks the next five years in commercial space travel will see more progress than people expect.

SpaceX is developing the Falcon One and Falcon Five semi-reusable launch vehicles for reducing the cost of launching satellites into orbit. Aviation Week and Space Technology has mentioned that the Falcon Five is being "man-rated" to eventually carry people into orbit. Mr. Musk said that the first Falcon One is to fly later this year, carrying a US Navy satellite. He also said SpaceX plans to make the Falcon vehicles completely reusable.

Musk also mentioned that he is a financial backer of the Ansari X-Prize, the current competition to launch commercial suborbital flights. He attended the historic SpaceShipOne human spaceflight at Mojave Airport last Monday. After the flight, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan said that he was planning a piloted orbital vehicle as a follow-on to the suborbital SpaceShipOne.

SpaceX had been largely noncommittal on whether it intended to participate in space tourism. In an earlier SpaceFuture interview (Will SpaceX Succeed..., SpaceFuture Journal, 26 March 2003), SpaceX public relations official Tereza Predescu indicated that space passenger flight was a possible future area of business. But Mr. Musk decided not to pursue the X-Prize and, until now, did not express a strong interest in getting SpaceX into the commercial human spaceflight arena. Today's comments by Mr. Musk mark a potential sea change in SpaceX's attitude toward public space travel.
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Alan Breakstone 25 June 2004
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