What’s going on with the X Prize Cup?

In just under three months the X Prize Cup will take place in Las Cruces, New Mexico. However, so far there have been few confirmed details about what is going on. The X Prize Foundation had planned to unveil more details on a revamped web site last month, but as of Saturday morning the site’s splash page now states that the new site will launch on Monday the 24th (this after the June date was still posted on the site as recently as earlier this month.)

One of the highlights of the event is going to be the Lunar Lander Challenge, and the two companies most likely to compete, Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems, provided some updates on their progress yesterday at the NewSpace 2006 conference in Las Vegas. Neil Milburn of Armadillo said that their first “Quad” vehicle is built and ready for testing, while a second is being built. (One will be flown for the Level 1 of the challenge, while the second will be used for the more challenging Level 2.) The Quad replaced their Vertical Drag Racer design, which Milburn said was “marginal” for the Level 2 portion of the challenge. Dave Masten of Masten Space Systems said that they are very busy with the development of their entry, the XA-0.1, and plan to start flight testing next week in Mojave.

It’s not clear if there are any other entrants likely to compete in Las Cruces in October, although there have been rumors of one or more stealth teams working on vehicles; if that’s true, they’re being very quiet about it. Both of the known entrants are going to have to overcome some significant technical and regulatory hurdles in the next three months, and any stumble that forces one or both to drop out could make the Lunar Lander Challenge a lot less compelling an event.

There’s also news of a separate event around the same time as the X Prize Cup. According to a report by SyFy Portal, the ashes of the late Star Trek actor James Doohan and astronaut Gordon Cooper, among others, will be launched on a suborbital sounding rocket flight from Spaceport America on October 21, the second day of the Cup. The launch is being conducted by UP Aerospace for Space Services International (SSI) (of Celestis fame). According to SSI’s web site the launch appears to be open only to family members and other Celestis “registrants”, and not the general public, although the public will be invited to a memorial service the day before, according to the SyFy Portal article. It’s not clear from the article if there will be, say, a live broadcast of the launch for XP Cup attendees or other cooperation between the Cup organizers and SSI/UP Aerospace.

5 comments to What’s going on with the X Prize Cup?

  • Rick Horman

    UP Aerospace???
    Is that JP Aerospace?

  • Jeff Foust


    UP Aerospace and JP Aerospace, despite their similar names, are different companies. UP Aerospace is focused on suborbital sounding rocket development. JP Aerospace, while having done some similar work in the past, is these days devoted primarily on high-altitude (aka “near space”) balloons and airships.

  • Ken Davidian

    In addition to the Lunar Lander Challenge (which will still be pretty darn compelling even if there is only one team competing since there will still be a lot of purse money remaining to be won in future editions of the competition), there will be the Beam Power Challenge and the Tether Challenge competitions taking place at the XPCup event. And based on last year’s experience with these two competitions, and despite what one might think in advance, these will also be very compelling to watch. For obvious reasons, I’m pretty excited about all these competitions and I think the general public will be, too.

  • Gene

    Thanks for the update.

  • Why waste time (and money) with the silly XCup? Everyone who is serious is moving forward with real vehicles, plans and goals.