Mojave Aerospace Ventures Wins The Competition That Started It All


Article cover image

Launching A Brand New $2 Billion Private Space Industry


The Ansari XPRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. A $10 million competition designed to lower the risk and cost of going to space by incentivizing the creation of a reliable, reusable, privately-financed, manned spaceship that finally made private space travel commercially viable. The Paul Allen-backed, Burt Rutan-led winning team, Mojave Aerospace Ventures proved it could be done. And with that, our first XPRIZE made us what we are today and rekindled interest in the incentivized prize model to drive innovation the world over.


The Ansari XPRIZE did more than just leverage talent. It leveraged investment in an industry that started from nothing. The competition began with $2.5 million in seed money, which led to a $10 million prize purse. Over the course of the competition, 26 teams invested over $100 million in aggregate for research and development in suborbital space flight. Breakthroughs made as a result of this successful competition led to a private space industry worth over $2 billion today.

Much like the Orteig Prize competition that launched today’s $300 billion commercial aviation industry, the winning technology from the $10M Ansari XPRIZE was licensed by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic and a new era of commercially viable space travel is born.



Until October 4, 2004, space flight was the exclusive purview of government. The possibility of space tourism was considered too dangerous and too expensive for the general public and space exploration for the private sector was neither possible nor affordable.


Incentivize the creation of a safe, reliable, reusable, privately-financed manned space ship to demonstrate that private space travel is commercially viable.


Funded by the Ansari family, the Ansari XPRIZE challenged teams from around the world to build a reliable, reusable, privately-financed, manned spaceship capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface twice within two weeks.


Grand Prize: $10 million


The competition launched in May 1996 and awarded on October 4, 2004. Altogether, 26 teams from 7 nations competed for the prize.


The $10 million prize purse was awarded to the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team, led by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, with financial backing from Paul Allen. The winning technology was licensed by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic. And the prize competition itself launched a $2 billion private space industry.

With the awarding of this prize, private space travel finally became a viable commercial enterprise.


Amir, Hamid and Anousheh Ansari are all members of the XPRIZE Foundation’s Vision Circle and Amir and Anousheh are both Board of Trustee members, as well as active proponents of world-changing technologies. Anousheh Ansari captured headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer. She earned a place in history as the fourth private explorer to visit space, and the first astronaut of Iranian descent. In addition to all their contributions to many charitable organizations and their commitment to bettering lives through innovation, the Ansari’s will always be remembered by the XPRIZE team as the family that helped to start it all.