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X-prize race hots up

Canadian challenge to SpaceShipOne

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The race to get an astronaut and privately-owned rocket into space is hotting up. The Ansari X-prize will give $10m to the first team who can get a spaceship able to carry three people into space - defined as 100km above earth. They must return safely and repeat the feat within two weeks.

Last month Mike Melvill was the first mere mortal in space aboard SpaceShipOne. But this was just a test flight. To qualify for the prize they must give notice of any attempt and carry three passengers. And now there's someone on their tail.

A Canadian team, the da Vinci project, has developed a ship called Wild Fire and hopes to be ready for its first ascent in September.

According to this report on Wired.com the leader of the Canadian bid Brian Feeney believes his team will be ready for an attempt in September.

Feeney is a self-taught "entrepreneur and inventor" - he says he spent "part of one year" at the University of Toronto but has no formal qualifications. In contrast to Mike Melvill, who flew SpaceShipOne into orbit, Feeney is not an experienced pilot. Melvill has 7,000 hours flying experience in 138 different planes, Feeney has just 25 hours flying light aircraft.

Feeney pointed out to Wired that he has been doing "intensive simulator training" and that flying an aircraft and spaceship are fundamentally different.

Wild Fire uses a hybrid rocket engine like SpaceShipOne. It will start its journey beneath a 200 foot helium balloon, firing its rockets when it reaches 70,000 feet.

For the conspiracy theorists it should be noted that SpaceShipOne is funded by extremely wealthy ex-Microsoft man Paul Allen while Wild Fire is funded by rival Sun Microsystems and Autodesk. They spent about $3.8m while SpaceShipOne spent about $20m.

More on the X-prize here The da Vinci team website is here and you can see more about SpaceShipOne here. ®

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