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updated 4/29/2004 7:43:33 PM ET 2004-04-29T23:43:33

The race to loft a three-person spaceship on a suborbital flight twice in two weeks will be won by the end of the summer, the competition’s founder said Wednesday.

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Peter Diamandis, chairman of the international X Prize competition to build and launch reusable spaceships, announced that the race will most likely be won in mere months.

“We do expect the X Prize to be captured within three to five months,” Diamandis said during a presentation here before the 41st Space Congress.

The X Prize is a competition between 27 teams across seven countries to design, build and develop a craft capable of launching three people 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) into space, returning them safely, then repeating the feat with the same vehicle within two weeks. The first team to make such a flight wins a $10 million purse, though the entrants have spent more than $50 million to develop their vehicles.

So far, the leader appears to be SpaceShipOne, an entry led by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites. With a launch license already in hand, and several test flights under his belt, Rutan appears poised to snag the X Prize. But Diamandis added that other teams are also well on their way, including the Canadian Da Vinci team headed by Brian Feeney, which has secured a launch license in Canada.

“We are already looking beyond the X Prize,” said Pablo De Leon, leader of his own X Prize team based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. De Leon conceded that his team is not ready to win the competition. The team plans to conduct two launch tests with a half-size model of their vehicle in the fall, he added.

De Leon told Space.com he and his teammates are looking forward to the X Prize Cup, an annual, post-X Prize meeting of private spacefarers to compete for the fastest launch turnaround, highest altitude, most passengers in a single launch, total passengers within two weeks and fastest flight.

But to conduct any private launch competition, the X Prize Foundation — the St. Louis-based group running the X Prize contest — needs a spaceport. In January, the X Prize Foundation announced a request for proposals from a number of states developing commercial spaceports, including Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Diamandis said the foundation has narrowed the choices down to New Mexico or Florida. Florida is home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the launching grounds for the space shuttle and other NASA, U.S. Air Force and commercial missions, while New Mexico is home to the White Sands Missile Range and the Air Force Research Laboratory's space vehicles directorate.

“We will be making a decision and announcing it in the next month or so,” Diamandis said.

De Leon said his money is on New Mexico winning the bid for spaceport. The southwestern state recently promised $9 million in funds to develop the infrastructure and marketing necessary for an X Prize spaceport, he told Space.com.

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