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Cheap rocket crumbles in hunt for $10m space prize

Three dummies wounded

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Only dummies were wounded yesterday when a low-budget rocket trying to make its way to space blew up over Washington.

Space Transport Corp. (STC) saw its $20,000 Rubicon 1 rocket travel a few hundred feet in the air and then explode due to a malfunction. The rocket crashed near its takeoff spot after a parachute failed to open, and three dummies inside the 23-foot long craft also turned into debris. STC has been trying to get into space on the cheap as part of its effort to win the $10m Ansari X-Prize awarded to the first team to put a privately manned craft with three passengers into space. The team must bring back the passengers safely and then repeat the effort within two weeks to claim the cash.

"We need to raise some more money ... fix our problems and launch another low-altitude flight as soon as possible," Eric Meier, a cofounder of STC told The Associated Press. "It's a learning experience to be expected when you're developing a vehicle with this kind of capabilities."

STC has raised $220,000 so far, but reckons it will take $400,000 to have a real chance at the X-Prize, according to information on its web site. The exploded rocket cost the team $20,000 to build.

The space quest is similar to the Grand Challenge race being put on by DARPA in which a $2m prize is offered to any team that can have a robot vehicle travel across the desert at speed. In both cases, groups are turning to the private sector instead of government bodies to try and spur technological innovation.

In June, SpaceShipOne - funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen - became the first privately-built craft to reach the lower bounds of space.

STC had been looking for its rocket to reach supersonic speeds. The craft will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

Around 25 other teams are going after the $10m prize. ®

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