Headlines > News > FloridaToday: SpaceShipOne claims $10 million X Prize

FloridaToday: SpaceShipOne claims $10 million X Prize

Published by Cathleen Manville on Mon Oct 4, 2004 3:40 pm
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BY TODD HALVORSON AND JOHN KELLY
FLORIDA TODAY

SpaceShipOne, the football-shaped craft designed by aviation legend Burt Rutan, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize this morning with a flawless and record-setting flight as the first spaceship fielded by an organization not affiliated with a major world government.

Brian Binney, now the second man to fly the odd-looking ship into space, piloted SpaceShipOne smoothly upward and then glided safely to a landing at 11:13 a.m. Eastern time.

The third flight is solidying Mojave’s status as America’s second human spaceport – the only other place in the United States besides Brevard County from which people have gone to space.

Binney joins Mike Melvill, who made the first two SpaceShipOne missions a success. The duo both are officially astronauts, having flown above the 62-mile line that experts acknowledge as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.

Binney’s flight was the highest ever for SpaceShipOne, reaching 368,000 feet, according to radar trackers at Edwards Air Force Base. That’s higher than the U.S. military’s X-15 rocket planes got in the 1960s. The record set by those flights, also from the desert here, was 354,000 feet in August of 1963.

The flight came on the anniversary of another milestone in space history. It was the 47th anniversary of the Russians’ launch of Sputnik, the first manmade object to orbit the Earth.

While the judges have not made an official announcement yet, the X Prize Foundation announced the altitude as official. The Edwards’ radar was one of the tools they planned to count on to certify that SpaceShipOne made the goal.

The contest called for a privately fielded and privately funded craft to fly into space, above 62.5 miles, carrying three people or the equivalent weight of two people. The spaceship then had to repeat the feat within two weeks.

SpaceShipOne made the two flights on Wednesday and this morning, an amazing five days apart.
The SpaceShipOne technology already has been licensed to billionaire Richard Branson, who plans to offer tourists flights to space aboard copies of the ship for $190,000. Branson plans to start building a fleet of five SpaceShipOne-based rocket planes as early as next year.

Melvill today flew the WhiteKnight carrier plane, a gangly craft that boosted SpaceShipOne to just above 45,000 feet. From there, Binney and SpaceShipOne were dropped. Binney punched the button to light a rocket engine powered by laughing gas and synthetic rubber. The ship then blasted almost straight upward to the record-setting height.

The extra altitude gave Binney a few extra minutes in space. The new astronaut got about four minutes of weightlessness, enough time to grab a camera and snap some pictures, he told mission controllers at the peak of the flight.

Binney then fell back through the atmosphere, experiencing a force about five times normal gravity, before the ship leveled off and became a glider for a smooth landing at Mojave’s airport. There, a crowd estimated at larger than 12,000 cheered wildly as the rocket plane zipped past.

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