Editor’s Note: This video had my head spinning last night. Think of Chuck Yeager’s Mach 2.3 flight in the X-1A. So, heres’ my take on it.
The last time Peter was on camera making an announcement like this (Ansari X Prize) was in 1996 — 22 years ago. And we still don’t have suborbital space tourism.
SpaceShipOne never carried three people to space. It was too dangerous. The test pilot chosen for the second prize winning flight pulled out because he was too afraid to fly the damn thing. It would have been crazy to put passengers aboard. Paul Allen knew it. That’s why right after the prize was won, SpaceShipOne was shipped to Air & Space.
Twenty-six teams didn’t build spaceships; I think two did. Paul Allen spent $28 million to win. Where did the other $78 million in spending come from that Peter is talking about?
The prize didn’t launch an industry. Scaled Composites was the only real serious competitor. Virtually every other team folded. The only one still in existence is ARCA Space. And they’ve never launched anything.
The technology the Ansari X Prize produced was immature and deeply flawed. The attempt to commercialize it by Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic has taken 14 years and four lives while landing four other people in the hospital. SpaceShipTwo still hasn’t flown to any definition of space.
As an inspiration to people, the Ansari X Prize was fantastic. It was a touchstone for a generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and space enthusiasts. In that way, the prize was a huge success.
In terms of tech….it fell short. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And you don’t see anyone adopting SpaceShipOne’s technology. The prize had little direct impact on the two NewSpace companies now flying rockets, SpaceX and Blue Origin, which were already in existence when the competition was won.
As Peter notes, the XPRIZE is now repeating itself. The competition could be very inspirational and great for STEM education. If it achieves those goals, great.
But, I don’t know what’s going to be produced in terms of new technology by the end of 2021. A better sounding rocket? Maybe. But, is that really important right now with Blue Origin and other systems coming online? Is there a market for it?
Perhaps it will form the basis for a startup focused on launching small satellites into orbit. But, there are already dozens of companies pursuing that market, and most of those will fail.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe something really spectacular and — I hate this phrase more than anything — game changing will come out of the prize.