On Monday, October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne, a privately funded aerospace venture made history, when it rocketed into space to reach an altitude of 377,591 feet (71-1/2 miles) to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. It was the second of two flights within a 14-day window required to capture the Prize. Its altitude record exceeded the military X-15's top altitude of 354,200 feet (67 miles), which was set on August 22, 1963.
The Ansari X-Prize, founded in 1996, was modeled after the Orteg Prize that Charles Lindbergh won in 1927 by flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The $10 million award was intended to encourage the development of civilian spaceflight.
The craft which was attached to the belly of its piloted turbojet carrier airplane, the White Knight, was lifted off from California's Mojave Airport and returned there safely ninety minutes later.
The White Knight, climbed to 50,000 feet, where the space ship was released. SpaceShipOne fired its rockets and climbed at speeds that reached 2,500 miles an hour, leaving white exhaust contrails as its rocket ignited for 84 seconds.The rocket burn sent SpaceShipOne on an upward trajectory for almost a minute after the engine shut down.
SpaceShipOne's thrust was provided by two innocuous substances that, when mixed together, burn rapidly: nitrous oxide and rubber. A tank about five feet in diameter at the center of the craft held liquid nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. A hollow tube leading from the tank to the engine nozzle was filled with rubber. The combustive combination produced thousands of pounds of thrust. After SpaceShipOne reached the X Prize target altitude of 62 miles, it gently coasted back down into Earth's atmosphere. After the reentry deceleration, the ship became a conventional glider with a 26-foot span. It glided for about 17 minutes before it descended to land on the runway at the Mojave Airport.
Astronaut, Brian Binnie’s ascent into space followed Mike Melvill’s initial SpaceShipOne’s first record-breaking flight into space on June 21 and Melvill's September 29 X-Prize flight. Melvill and Binnie are the only persons in history to earn FAA commercial astronaut wings. Brian Binnie is a veteran U.S. Navy aviator.
The spacecraft was designed by Burt Rutan, who is the founder, president and CEO of Scaled Composites, L.L.C., an aerospace and specialty composites development company. Rutan is also known for development of the Voyager aircraft, which was the first airplane to fly around the world without refueling. Scaled Composites has been involved in the design, development, building and test prototyping of manned and unmanned aircraft for government agencies, including NASA and the U.S. Navy, and for work with aerospace companies, among which are Beech Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas and Northrop Grumman.
Burt Rutan, is an experienced pilot and he previously conducted flight test programs for the U.S. Air Force as a Flight Test Project Engineer at Edwards Air Force Base from 1965 to 1972. He holds a BS degree in Aeronautical Engineering from California Polytechnic University and he received advanced training at the Space Technology Institute at Cal Tech and the Aerospace Research Pilot’s School at Edwards AFB.
SpaceShipOne’s development of the first commercially manned space vehicle began in 2001, when Rutan teamed with inventor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, who funded the space venture. Allen was a co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates.
Following SpaceShipOne’s successful flights into space, Rutan’s continuing vision is to develop a safe space tourism system. Richard Branson, who recently founded Virgin Galactic for space tourism, announced a deal to license the SpaceShipOne technology for a fleet of commercial spacecraft - to help make that vision come true.
- Information Gathered From Web Sources