Headlines > News > Space.com: SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million Ansari X Prize in Historic 2nd Trip to Space

Space.com: SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million Ansari X Prize in Historic 2nd Trip to Space

Published by Cathleen Manville on Mon Oct 4, 2004 5:35 pm
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By Leonard David
Space.com Senior Writer

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA – Human flight took a significant step forward today as the privately built SpaceShipOne flew into suborbital space for the second time in five days, securing the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

With pilot Brian Binnie at the controls, SpaceShipOne rocketed to an unofficial height of 368,000 feet, setting a new altitude record for the craft and proving that private industry can build a viable vehicle for sending paying passengers to space.

“This is a milestone for humanity,” said John Spencer, president of the Space Tourism Society in Los Angeles.

Shortly after SpaceShipOne became airborne this morning, Spencer told SPACE.com the flight represents “an independent approach to space development. If today works it is the kickoff of the space tourist industry.”

Seconds after being released from the White Knight carrier plane somewhere above 46,000 feet, Binnie ignited SpaceShipOne’s hybrid rocket motor, boosting the craft above the target point of 62 miles (100 kilometers) required by the X Prize Foundation of St. Louis, Missouri in order to win the cash prize.

The top altitude was confirmed by radar while SpaceShipOne was gliding back to Earth. The craft touched down at 11:14 a.m. ET.

On a roll

The Ansari X Prize is a $10 million purse for the first privately-built vehicle that can safely haul a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers to the edge of space — then repeat the feat within two weeks.

Last week, SpaceShipOne, under the controls of pilot Mike Melvill, coasted above the 62-mile (100-kilometer) altitude point and successfully completed the first of the back-to-back X Prize flights.

That Sept. 29 flight — dubbed X1 — saw SpaceShipOne soar to a reported 337,500 feet. Melvill’s rocket ride was not without incident. The craft rolled nearly 30 times in an unplanned manner as it shot faster than a bullet out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Melvill was able to dampen out the roll, re-enter the atmosphere, and make a controlled glide and landing at the Mojave Spaceport. This flight was deemed by a team of judges as a successful first flight for the Ansari X Prize.

Today’s clinching flight went off without any apparent hitches. It reached 69.7 miles (112.2 kilometers), well above the minimum target.

“This was a sweet ride,” said noted science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. “I’ve been around since they were stuffing people into Mercury capsules. This is great stuff.”

SpaceShipOne was under the control of a single pilot in both flights, but it was weighted as if two additional people were aboard.

There is significant additional performance in the craft’s hybrid rocket motor, its designers say, enough to propel on an even higher suborbital trajectory.

The competition

SpaceShipOne’s apparent success is not expected dull enthusiasm of other rocketeers building suborbital vehicles, predicted Peter Diamandis, head of the X Prize Foundation, in a pre-flight interview with SPACE.com.

“If the Ansari X Prize is won…I think you’ll see the first Canadian, the first Russian, the first British, the first Romanian…all the X Prize teams outside the United States will continue their work to become the first of their nation to carry out a first private flight into space,” Diamandis said. “I think that’s still huge news.”

Brian Feeney, who leads a rival X Prize effort called the da Vinci group, wished the SpaceShipOne team well this morning just prior to the flight, and he vowed not to stop his own effort.

“Even if the prize is won today, we will fly,” Feeney told SPACE.com. “We’re moving our program as fast as we can. We’ll announce a launch date in a short period of time.”

Feeney was wearing a gold-colored outfit to promote GoldenPalace.com, the sponsor of his Canadian team. But Feeney’s mission has been a largely volunteer effort, while SpaceShipOne is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

“Not everyone has a billionaire available to them,” Feeney said this morning.

With today’s flight, Binnie became just the second civilian pilot to earn his astronaut wings, along with Melvill. The 51-year-old Binnie is a program business manager and test pilot at Scaled Composites, the firm that built SpaceShipOne.

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