...which will either be won or abolished by the end of the year, we at least will have something else to look forward to:
Originally posted by Alan Boyle on MSNBC.comRobert Bigelow, the millionaire behind Bigelow Aerospace and a plan to develop inflatable space modules for commercial use, is floating the idea of setting up a $50 million prize for the development of a new orbital space vehicle.
In this week's issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Bigelow is quoted as saying he'd be willing to contribute $25 million to the prize pool. Other partners, perhaps including NASA, would have to come up with the rest of the money. "America's Space Prize" would be patterned after the Ansari X Prize for suborbital spaceflight, a $10 million award that could well be won in the next week or so.
Bigelow's idea has been circulating on the space rumor mill for some time now, and I referred to the concept indirectly a couple of weeks ago. Orbital spaceflight is substantially harder to do than suborbital flight — just compare the estimates for SpaceShipOne's effort ($20 million-plus over roughly three years) and China's space program ($2 billion or so annually).
Some observers believe the commercial space travel market won't catch fire until private enterprise makes the leap to orbit. Others, however, are worried that a big-money orbital prize, offered with NASA backing, would merely encourage business as usual in human spaceflight. It'll be interesting to see if Bigelow's big idea actually flies, and how high.
And they are right. Orbital flights where the action truly is, much in the way flying across the Atlantic or Pacific was back in the late 1920s. Plus, orbiting vehicles will allow for long term(and high-dollar) tourism experiences.