Peter Diamandis on the Future of the X Prize Cup
PopSci Why did the X Prize Cup move this year from Las Cruces to Holloman Air Force base [some 50...
Why did the X Prize Cup move this year from
Las Cruces to Holloman Air Force base [some 50 miles outside of Las
Cruces, New Mexico, on the edge of White Sands Missile Range]?
We did the transition for a number of
reasons. One, to add the air show, which was critical because rocket
operations are still touch and go. They’re infrequent. There are large
periods when nothing is happening. It’s exciting—people go to a shuttle
mission just to watch one launch and they’ll spend the entire day—but
we felt that being able to have an air and space show would really
liven things up. Number two: Holloman has helped reduce the cost of our
operations substantially. General [David] Goldfein [commander of the
49th Fighter Wing, based at Holloman] and his entire team here have
been incredible. The facilities they have here in terms of security, in
terms of construction, are first class and allow us—instead of spending
our money building landing pads and porta potties, we can spend that
money bringing in more hardware and giving away more prizes. It’s been
a great marriage between the two and I hope that as we look at the
success this year we’ll be able to consider doing it again next year.
PS But the Holloman show is biannual, right?
PD It’s biannual. And it hasn’t been decided yet, but our
hope is we’ll do the combined air and space show on an annual basis. Or
it could be that we do this two years from now. We’ll have to find out.
PS So if Armadillo wins the Lunar Lander Challenge
today, what will be the centerpiece challenge next year? [Editor’s
note: Armadillo didn’t win, so the Lunar Lander Challenge is still up
for grabs. Still, something has to come after the Lunar Lander
Challenge is finally claimed.]
PD That’s a good question. We don’t know yet. We have ideas.
We’ll be talking to NASA, we’ll be talking to the Air Force about other
prize purses. There will be prizes that move technology forward, that
are valuable to the team, valuable to the sponsors, and make great
theater. We’re thinking about, say, Lunar Lander Level Three. We’ve
talked about the idea of what we call a Rock and Rove—a small rocket
that might go up to 5 or 10,000 feet and then land a robotic rover out
in the distance that has to then rove back to the starting line.
PS What about the role of the Rocket Racing League?
PD Next year I now feel extremely confident we will have a
number of the rocket racing vehicles here. One of the agreements I
negotiated between the X Prize and the Rocket Racing League is that the
finals would be held at the X Prize Cup every year. So hopefully next
year we’ll have a number of vehicles flying.
PS So recent developments make you feel confident? They had a test on Mojave, they had…
PD We had five engine firings—two static, three flight tests.
They went exceptionally well. We’ll be expanding the envelope
privately, and we hope to do a public demonstration flight before the
end of the year.
PS I’ve heard rumors that the league could release a schedule within 30-45 days. Does that sound reasonable?
PD For the first public flight?
PS No, for 2008.
PD I can’t comment on that. I have no idea what the schedule is.
PS Do you see other big air and space shows such as NASA’s expo as competition to the cup?
PD No. I mean, my goal here is to provide something that is
valuable to the companies, that is valuable to the NASA and the Air
Force. If someone else does it better than us, great. We think there’s
something very special here. We’ve done it for three years, and we’ve
learned a lot every year. I think there is a market for one or two of
these [events] every year. Maybe there’s a market for more, I don’t
know. We’ve made a commitment to New Mexico, which has put up a large
amount of money to hold ours here. If Florida gets one going, if
someone else gets one going, great. But we’ll take that one step at a