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Spacecraft design wins $5,000 in new contest

A design of a commercial spacecraft by Georgia Institute of Technology students won $5,000 at the X-Prize University Design Competition at MIT on May 9.

Georgia Tech, which came up with the Global Spaceline Inc. Polaris spaceship, was one of four university teams competing in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics' first X-Prize competition to design spaceships that will launch ordinary citizens into space.

The MIT student design team won the best presentation award for its Phoenix spaceship. With this award comes an invitation for one student and one faculty advisor to attend the X-Prize Special Event at the National Air and Space Museum on May 20.

Also competing were teams from Ryerson Polytechnic University in Canada and Parks College of Aviation at the University of St. Louis. The teams presented their designs to a panel of six judges. The winning team gets a chance to pursue the X-Prize itself.

The X-Prize Foundation in 1996 offered a $10 million award to the first private team to build and fly a spaceship capable of launching three adults to a suborbital altitude of 100 kilometers, landing safely and reflying to 100 kilometers within two weeks. So far, 15 teams have registered to compete.

Organizers hope that the X-Prize will do for space travel what Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 flight across the Atlantic (for the $25,000 Orteig Prize) did for air travel.

The university version of the contest was developed "to stimulate students to think about human space flight, space tourism and innovative system designs," according to the X-Prize Foundation.

Inspiring the student competition, Professor Edward Crawley, head of aeronautics and astronautics, challenged colleges and universities to join the competition.

"It's an excellent design project because it's a challenging design regime for both aeronautics and astronautics, it involves humans in the system so it's exciting on a personal level, and the actual [X-Prize] Competition is expected to take place during the next three to five years, making this relevant and interesting," Professor Crawley said. "And it's giving students a chance to be a part of history."

Judges were Dr. James Burke of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Renso Caporali of Raytheon Corp., Douglas Comstock of Futron Corp., Professor Jay Light of Harvard Business School, John Mankins of NASA's Office of Space Flight, and Professor Lawrence Roberts of Seton Hall University.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 20, 1998.

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