The Cheap Access To Space (CATS) Prize

The CATS Prize ended on November 8, 2000

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The $250,000 Challenge:

In November of 1997 the Space Frontier Foundation and the Foundation for the International Non-governmental Development of Space (FINDS) jointly announced a $250,000 prize for the first private team to launch a 2 kilogram payload into space, 200 km or higher, by November 8, 2000, using a privately-developed launcher as specified within the rules. Called the “Cheap Access to Space” (CATS) Prize, The Foundation and FINDS wanted to show that space is not purely the domain of governments.

Several private launch companies, including JP Aerospace, InterOrbital and HARC, as well as many individuals, vied for the prize. Although no company was able to achieve the objective within the allotted time, their efforts added to the advancement of private space enterprise.

Below are a few press releases related to attempts at claiming the prize.


Los Angeles, CA, November 1, 2000 – HARC Launch Attempt Fails at 15 Miles; CATS Prize Ends

HARC’s attempt to attain an altitude of 200 kilometers failed, at an altitude of 15 miles, when the launch vehicle failed upon engine ignition. Browse the HARC web site at: for more information. Meanwhile, InterOrbital Systems has informed the CATS Prize that they will be unable to launch prior to the November 8, 2000 deadline, thus effectively ending the CATS Prize. We would like to thank all the contestants and officials who participated in the competition.


Los Angeles, CA, July 31, 2000 – JP Aerospace Launches an All-Carbon Fiber Rocket as CATS Prize Test!

On Saturday July 29th, 2000, JP Aerospace, a private space program, flew it’s newest version of the MicroSat Launcher (ML) rocket. The rocket was launched in the hot Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada. The JPA team worked ten hours prepping, testing and running through checklists before the afternoon flight. When the ignition command was sent the solid propellant rocket motor provided 2328 pounds of thrust sending the vehicle to an altitude of 16,200 feet. When the rocket reached peak altitude it deployed it’s large black and orange parachute then floated gently back to Earth. The entire flight lasted just over nine minutes.

For more details on JP Aerospace go to:


Los Angeles, CA, September 13, 1999 – InterOrbital Systems’ First Test Launch Successful, Sets Record for Liquid Fueled Rocket

On Sunday, September 12, 1999, at 8:15 AM, a boilerplate version of the IOS Research Series (RS-1) sounding rocket with a blowdown pressurant system lifted off at the Mojave Test Area near Koehn Dry Lake in California. Its hypergolic rocket engine is powered by nitric acid and furfuryl alcohol. The rocket was launched with its propellant tanks pressurized to half their design pressure. Engine performance was nominal at this low pressure, yielding approximately half of its design thrust. The rocket engine’s burn time was 32 seconds – setting a record for in-flight burn time on a non-governmentally funded liquid rocket. After reaching an altitude of around 8,000 ft, the rocket was recovered three miles downrange.

Roderick Milliron, President and Chief Scientist of InterOrbital Systems commented, “The smooth performance of the GPRE-500NF rocket engine at low chamber pressure (between 100 and 150 psi) proves the engine can be efficiently throttled between 150 and 500 pounds of thrust. Throttleable engines are a key component in our plans for manned space flight.”

Designed to be reusable, the engine was recovered undamaged. All rocket hardware, including engines, is built in-house by InterOrbital Systems. “We’re one of the few producers of liquid propulsion rocket engines in this country. We don’t believe it’s prudent to become dependent on engines from foreign sources or outside manufacturers”, said Randa Milliron, Vice President and co-founder of IOS.

A fully-fueled enhanced version of the RS-1 with a regulated pressurant system will be flown in December. Its design altitude is 200,000 ft (61 km). The RS-1 is the upper stage of the RS-2 high-altitude sounding rocket (maximum altitude: 255 km) and will be flown with its booster early next year in the CATS (Cheap Access to Space) Prize competition. Entrants in this contest vie for a $250,000 purse to be awarded to the team that flies the first non-governmentally funded rocket to an altitude of 120 miles (200 kilometers), carrying a 5-pound (2.2kg) payload. InterOrbital Systems will fly the RS-2 in association with the Pacific Rocket Society and Trans Lunar Research.

At the completion of flight testing, in early 2000, the IOS RS-2 SOUNDING ROCKET will be made commercially available. Applications include: testing instruments or equipment for reliability in high-G-force environments, as a ramjet accelerator, for meteorological research, environmental sampling, micro-gravity experiments, and for military applications such as quick-look surveillance and remote sensing. Roderick states, “These sounding rockets will accomplish several main goals for IOS: they’ll fill the needs of a lucrative scientific and military niche market, thereby generating revenue and local manufacturing jobs; but most importantly, they’ll serve as test beds for all the flight and ground systems we’ll employ on our reusable two-stage satellite launch vehicle, the Neptune, projected to enter service in 2001.”

For more on the Neptune project, visit the IOS website at:


Los Angeles, CA, May 23, 1999 – CATS Prize Test Launch Results in Verified Amateur Altitude Record

“This weekend (May 21,22) JP Aerospace went to Black Rock, NV to attempt the first amateur flight to space. We utilized a rockoon system consisting of a launch platform carried by an array of stacked weather balloons with a solid propellant rocket. Both the rocket and the launch platform carry a sophisticated telemetry system with GPS for tracking. We arrived on the desert Thursday and setup our launch complex. This consists of antenna towers, workshops, mission control stations, generators, etc. We went with a crew of 30.

We had brought two complete systems, two rockets, two launch platforms, two sets and balloons and helium. At 6:30 am we had lift off. We knew from the winds aloft from Saturday night that we would not be able to reach our goal of 320,000 feet. The winds would push the launch platform beyond our operations range before we reached the 100,000 launch altitude. We would need to decide to launch early and fly to a lowed altitude or abort the mission. We learn nothing from a rocket on the ground so we decided to ‘cycle the system’ and verify that the launch system works.

At 25,000 feet we took a final system status, both platform and rocket. After a final telemetry check and a pan with the on board video, we armed the launch system. At 26,000 feet we launched the rocket. The platform video showed a clean launch. The entire system was close enough that the launch was seen by people at the launch site. CNN got video of the rocket climbing vertical up and out of sight.

Shortly after motor burnout we reacquired eight satellites with the GPS (NOTE: THIS IS THE GPS ON THE ROCKET). The Telemetry string also showed a solid system and batteries. The highest altitude fix we received was at 72,223 feet, (NOTE: THIS IS THE GPS ON THE ROCKET). This transmission also gave at velocity of 800 feet per second still climbing. We missed the apogee transmission. We have calculated that altitude but since we can’t verify it we’re not going to talk about it. After apogee we received about 25 position fixes during descent till landing.

Note: Rapid GPS refix after a high G load can be done. We just proved it. However, the system that did it is the most complex part of the entire ball of wax. It took team members several years to get it to this point.

Monday morning around 3:00 am the team arrived back home, tired but feeling great about the launch. Even though we didn’t go to space we are very happy about that success of the launch and performance of the system. This was the 28th launch in the program. We will be back out again soon for another. Chalk one up for the rockoons!!!”

For more details on JP Aerospace go to:


Los Angeles, CA, November 18, 1997 – $250,000 Prize Announced for First Private Rocket to Space

Right: Space Frontier Foundation President Rick Tumlinson displays the CATS Prize Payload – a 2 kilogram aluminum cylinder measuring exactly 100×200 mm. Photo courtesy of Ky Michaelson of Rocketman Enterprises.

For more info about the CATS Prize: CATS Prize Official Announcement.

Link to the FAA’s Web Site on Launch Regulations – important for all U.S. Competitors:

Click here for the CATS Prize Rules.

Click here for the CATS Prize Teams.