Sci Station Canada

Monday, June 07, 2004

Taking the Longer View

The big news last week was that Burt Rutan and SpaceShip-One are planning their first sub-orbital crack at the 100Km high barrier On June 21st from the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Centre in California. How does that affect the other 26 teams, including two from Canada, competing for the Ansari X Prize? The global competition for $10 million (U.S.) is for the first team that can make two flights to the edge of space in a manned, reusable vehicle within two weeks with three people - or one and the equivalent ballast for the two passengers.

The two Canadian teams in the X Prize quest, the Toronto-based da Vinci Project and London's Canadian Arrow wish Rutan well.
"Of course we wish them the best of luck," said Brian Feeney of the da Vinci Project (who will hurtle into space in his Wild Fire rocket some time later this year after a launch in Kindersley, Sask.)
"If you want to wake up Bay Street and Wall Street, there's no better way than having one of us fly to 100 kilometres," said Geoff Sheerin, Canadian Arrow team leader. "So we're thrilled. In the end, we all want to win that prize. But the real prize is the industry. Burt (Rutan) will have people beating down his door, paying money to fly that vehicle ... We've been taught that space flight is very expensive. Really, all the X Prize vehicles are like the Cessna of spacecraft."

Feeney sounds pretty laid back about it ...

"The Wright Brothers may have been first in flight," said Brian Feeney ... told United Press International. "But you don't fly on Wright Brothers' aircraft -- you fly on Boeings and Airbuses."

Feeney also said he's not worried about the pressure from SpaceShipOne, which soared to 211,400 feet over the Mojave Desert on May 13.
"It could literally come down to the fastest turnaround time between (the required two) flights."

In fact he has taken this opportunity to "leak" his long range plans for the Canadian Space Tourist industry ...

if Brian Feeney has his way. The astronaut's company, Orva Space Corp., is considering offering sub-orbital flights from Saskatchewan on a regular basis as early as 2006. Although ticket prices could start at $100,000 US each, Feeney wants to drop the cost to $19,900 within five years.
"It's still expensive but is not the high end of extreme vacations," Feeney said. "You can go to Antarctica and the top of (Mount) Everest and to African safaris in the $30,000-$50,000 (cost) range," he said. The launch site is the airport in Kindersley, southwest of Saskatoon...

"The thing we're putting together is for people to spend five to seven days with us as part of an in-house training program and having both a lot of fun and a grand experience," he said. The space tourism craft itself will have room for the pilot and seven passengers.
"The ship will be unveiled late this year as the prototype and be flown for the first time around the end of next year," said Feeney.
"Our business plan is to do a limited number of flights in 2005 and determine what the costs are to us. Then we'll have a better idea (what to charge)...

"The whole point [of the X-Prize] is to open people's minds (to space travel) and to give them the realistic opportunity of being able to afford it," said Feeney, who hopes to capitalize on that market. "We've got a longer-term business plan to expand into the commercial sub-orbital business over the next 10 years. Where we're now developing the logistics to do two flights in two weeks (for the X Prize), we're going to try and do two flights every week (for the business), or at least once a week or every two weeks."

The seven-passenger rocket will launch from an aircraft thousands of feet in the air, rather than a balloon.
Feeney doesn't expect to find many passengers willing to pay the $100,000 fare but a few will help build the business by bringing in revenue. Accumulating capital will enable Feeney to lower the ticket price and attract more people until he can offer flights that are affordable and profitable.
"It's like owning an airline and flying your aircraft once a month. Your cost per seat-mile is going to be enormous until you begin to fly it every day with more passengers and more aircraft," he said. "We've got to do several flights to build that base."

He hasn't decided if the business will be based at Cape Kindersley but says he is leaning that way. Feeney hasn't made a final decision on space tourism, focusing instead on the X Prize for now. Most of the team's money has come from American sponsors and a few Canadian backers. Although businesses in this province have been asked, the response had been non-existent until recently. The team just signed three Saskatoon-based companies as sponsors: Kindersley Transport, Hinz Automation and Titan Crane.

The project [Da Vinci] is based in Toronto but has team members in Regina, Vancouver, Montreal and St. Petersburg, Russia. Those involved include rocket scientists and mission control experts from NASA.

Who was it said "History is made by men of vision"?


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