Established in 1995, the X Prize is a $10,000,000 purse
offered with the intention to jump start
the commercial passenger space industry. The prize emulates previous aviation competitions such as the Orteig Prize
(won by Charles Lindbergh
in 1927 for his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean
in The Spirit of St. Louis
) that stimulated the private aviation industry.
The $10 Million cash prize will be awarded to the first team that can build a spacecraft able to carry three people to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62.5 miles), which is over 10 miles higher than the US Air Force's recognized boundary of space. (The first American manned spaceflight was a suborbital trip by Alan Shepard in the Freedom 7 Mercury spacecraft, achieving an altitude of 116.5 miles in a flight lasting a little over 15 minutes.)
The real kicker is that the same spacecraft must be reused within 2 weeks to repeat the feat. It is this aspect that would make the prize winner's effort more than a simple act of derring-do and make it a viable model for commerical spaceflight.
Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the X PRIZE Foundation has registered more than 20 teams from seven countries to compete for the prize. The X PRIZE is fully funded through January 1, 2005, and is backed by an insurance policy to guarantee the $10 million payment to the winner.
Update: due to a major contribution, the prize has been renamed the Ansari X Prize.
The organization's website is http://www.xprize.com
The X-Prize will now become a permanent aviation competition. Every year competitors will try for trophies and prizes for time-to-altitude, number of passengers, fastest turn-around time, and other goals.