Anyone who wants to follow in the shoes of Burt Rutan and win the next big space prize will have to build a spacecraft capable of taking a crew of no fewer than five people to an altitude of 250 miles (400 kilometers) and complete two orbits of Earth at that altitude. Then they have to repeat that accomplishment within 60 days.

While the first flight must demonstrate only the ability to carry five crew members, the winner will have to take at least five people up on the second flight.



And one more thing: They have to do it by Jan. 10, 2010.



Those are just some of the rules that govern who wins the $50 million “America’s Space Prize,” an effort by Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada, to spur the development of space tourism in low Earth orbit.



No more than 20 percent of the spacecraft’s hardware can be expendable. It must also demonstrate the ability to dock with Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable space habitat and be able to stay docked in orbit for up to six months.



A key ambition of the Bigelow Aerospace cash reward is to break the monopoly on crew transport to space currently held by Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. “This is trying to be an alternative to the bad situation that our country is in with Soyuz,” in terms of international space station operations, Robert Bigelow, head of Bigelow Aerospace, said in an exclusive interview with Space.com and Space News.



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