Hamburg, February 21:

Now you can win a chance to become an astronaut under rules of a competition launched by a German carmaker in a bid to promote its new model. The winner will be blasted 100-km above Earth in a small rocket plane designed exclusively for space joyrides.

Although the Xerus craft has not yet been flown, it is under development and should be ready by 2009 when the launch is planned. To enter the contest, all that is required is to log onto the website and answer the question — “What is the best patented invention of all time - and why?” The winner will be chosen from the most original and imaginative entries. He or she will have to be fit enough to undergo training for the flight and cope with the physical demands of the launch.

The competition has been organised by New Scientist magazine in association with Audi. The German motor manufacturer’s contribution is part of $12 million campaign to promote the Audi A6, which has a tenuous link with space. Audi is capitalising on the fact that it has applied for more design patents than the American space agency NASA.

The winning flight will be taken with Space Adventures, a US firm that has pioneered space tourism. It has already sent a number of rich clients on multimillion pound trips to the international space station.

Space Adventures now plans to provide ‘cheap’ sh-ort hops into space costing around $100,000. It is wo-rking with the Californian rocket company XCOR Aer-ospace to develop Xerus sub-orbital vehicle. Xerus that looks like a miniature space shuttle will carry one pilot and one passenger.