Branson or Bezos: How well do you know the players in the new space race?

Staff

When space shuttle Atlantis flew its final trip to the International Space Station, what special object did its crew leave behind?

As a prize and a goad for the U.S. space sector, Atlantis’s crew endowed the International Space Station (ISS) with an American flag flown aboard Columbia during STS-1, the inaugural shuttle flight. The first U.S.-made-and-launched spacecraft that flies Americans to the ISS gets dibs.

How much was the cash award for the Ansari X Prize?

Inspired by awards like the Orteig Prize, which spurred Charles Lindbergh’s record-setting nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927, the Ansari X Prize doled out a cool $10 million, but generated more than $100 million in commercial space development.

Who snagged that $10 million from the Ansari X Prize?

Aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and his financial backer, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, won the prize in 2004 for being the first private team to "build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface, twice within two weeks."

You may have heard of this space incentive, too, the N-Prize. What number features prominently in the N-Prize?

The N-Prize will award 9,999.99 pounds (around $15,000) to two teams that can launch a satellite weighing between 9.99 and 19.99 grams (0.35 and 0.71 ounces) into Earth orbit at an altitude of at least 99 kilometers (about 61.5 miles) for a minimum of nine successful orbits, and pull it off for less than 999.99 pounds (around $1,500), before Sept. 19, 2012. One of the teams must launch a reusable craft.

What sets the Bigelow Aerospace space station apart from other space stations?

Robert T. Bigelow’s company is building an inflatable, privately owned-and-operated space station. Lightweight inflatables are a handy way to get around rockets’ limited cargo space.

So you'd like to stay for a month aboard Bigelow's space station? How much is that going to run you?

Just under $25 million per person will reserve digs for 30 days, transportation included. In exchange for a four-year commitment, you can reserve a six-person module for an annual lease of $395 million, including free taxi service for a dozen people per year.

About how much does the United States pay the Russian space program per seat to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz rocket?

With the retirement of the space shuttle program, NASA has had to scramble to get the International Space Station. The agency has been known to shell out more than $50 million per astronaut to Russia for the privilege.

As of January 2012, how many private citizens have paid their way into space (and not traveled there as an employee of a public or private space program)?

Only seven private citizens have flown to space on their own dime (or millions) as of January 2012. Each person ponied up tens of millions of dollars for his or her golden ticket to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket.

What's the name of Virgin Galactic’s first passenger spaceship?

SpaceShipTwo, a 60-foot (18-meter), six-passenger/two-pilot rocket glider, will be carried to high altitude by Virgin Mothership Eve, a dual-fuselage aircraft with a 140-foot (43-meter) wingspan, from where it will rocket to space. SpaceShipOne was the winner of the Ansari X Prize, and was designed by the same engineer, Burt Rutan, as SpaceShipTwo.

As of January 2012, how much does it cost to reserve a seat aboard a Virgin Galactic flight?

A mere $20,000 deposit secures your place alongside the 430 who had booked as of January 2012, but paying the full $200,000 bumps you into Boarding Group A. Travel agents are standing by to take your reservation. Hustle up!

With which two companies did NASA enter into billion-dollar contracts in 2008 to resupply the International Space Station?

The space agency signed billion-dollar agreements with SpaceX ($1.6 billion contract) and Orbital Sciences Corp. ($1.9 billion contract).

What's NASA’s Commercial Crew Initiative designed to foster?

NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, aka the Commercial Crew Initiative, fuels private-sector efforts in human spaceflight, specifically to help shoulder the burden of the now-defunct space shuttle, but generally to nurture entrepreneurship and, through it, job growth and economic development in space- related fields.

What's Blue Origin's motto?

The private spacecraft developer chose the motto <i>gradatim ferociter</i>, which (very roughly) deciphers as "step by step, fiercely." Caveat emptor ("let the buyer beware") is good advice for anyone who is thinking about investing in private space companies.

Which item best describes the shape of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft?

Blue Origin’s nine-engine rocket pod prototype, designed to take off and land vertically, is shaped like a gumdrop. It was inspired by the old DC-X craft developed by McDonnell Douglass for NASA and the Defense Department. For now, no one seems to have seized on the Heart of Gold's running shoe shape.

Which two companies formed the joint venture United Launch Alliance?

This joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin builds Atlas V rockets, the platform on which several commercial ventures plan to launch their space planes or crew capsules. This mainstay rocket all but guarantees United Launch Alliance a place at the space table for the foreseeable future.

Which company has built every aeroshell flown by NASA to Mars?

Lockheed Martin, like Boeing, boasts a five-decade-long record building airplanes and spacecraft with NASA and remains a major player. The company has built every aeroshell flown by NASA to Mars, from Viking to the Curiosity Rover.

Spawned from parent company, Sierra Nevada Corp., Sierra Nevada Space Systems has a proven track record in what?

Old-timer Sierra Nevada Corp. has manufactured defense electronics since 1963 and, as of 2011, remained the U.S. pack leader in fabricating small satellites. Sierra Nevada Space Systems’ main brainchild is the Dream Chaser, a reusable mini-shuttle for carrying up to seven astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station.

Which company can brag about launching the first privately owned ship ever to return safely from Earth orbit?

On Dec. 8, 2010, SpaceX launched the first privately owned ship ever to return safely from Earth orbit. The Dragon capsule was propelled to space atop a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has claimed that, by the end of 2013, he would be able to send astronauts into space at what bargain-basement cost?

Not long after SpaceX made history on Dec. 8, 2010, PayPal entrepreneur, Tesla Motors CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk made the surprising claim that, within three years, the company would send astronauts to space at $20 million a pop. Experts are skeptical, and SpaceX has its work cut out for it for sure.

What was the name of the space plane once under development at Orbital Sciences Corp.?

The Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. has a wide portfolio of products -- from launch vehicles to advanced space programs. However, like others embarked on the rough road to space, the company has suffered its share of setbacks: In April 2011, NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program bypassed funding its Prometheus space plane.

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About This Quiz

Consult your racing forms, ladies and gentlemen, because the space race, once dominated by nationalized thoroughbreds, has now opened up to private ponies. Try your luck at our new space race quiz and find out if you’re a punter or a piker.

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