Headlines > News > AP: SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million X Prize

AP: SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million X Prize

Published by Cathleen Manville on Mon Oct 4, 2004 9:40 pm
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LOS ANGELES — A stubby rocket named SpaceShipOne streaked into space and the history books Monday, flying higher than 62 miles for the second time in a week and capturing the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

The privately owned manned rocket left the Mojave Airport at dawn aboard a mother plane named White Knight that carried it to an altitude of 46,000 feet. From there it was launched on a half-hour flight that took it to an altitude of more than 62 miles for the second time in a week.

About an hour after it landed, X Prize founder Peter Diamandis announced that the altitude was official and that SpaceShipOne’s team had claimed the prize by making two such flights within the required 14 days.

The spacecraft returned to Earth about a half hour after being launched from White Knight and about 90 minutes after the two aircraft left the ground. The mother craft and chase planes did flyovers for spectators before landing, putting an exclamation point on what appeared to be a flawless flight.

“This is the true frontier of transportation,” said Marion C. Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, who stood near the runway to watch the flight.

“It feels a little bit like Kitty Hawk must have,” Blakey added.

A crowd of thousands of space enthusiasts and a throng of news media gathered at Mojave Airport to watch as the mother ship, flown by Michael Melvill, took off into calm, clear skies on a beautiful but chilly morning that saw the dawn sky bathed in pink hues.

Six days after carrying Melvill to an altitude of nearly 64 miles, SpaceShipOne needed a repeat performance to claim the prize.

This time the spacecraft was flown by Brian Binnie, a graduate of the Navy test pilot school. He has more than 4,600 hours of flight time in 59 different types of aircraft and is one of four pilots who have undergone special training to fly SpaceShipOne.

“Let me say I thank God that I live in a country where this is possible,” Binnie said after landing and receiving a hug of congratulations from his wife. “And I really mean that. There’s no place on Earth that you can take this flag and take it up to space.”

Shortly after the flight, word of Binnie’s accomplishment was relayed from Mission Control to the two people aboard the international space station, astronaut Mike Fincke and cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.

“Fantastic,” Fincke said, adding that it was great to learn that for a while Monday he and Gennady weren’t “the only ones off the planet.”

“That was great and we’re really glad that the SpaceshipOne returned safely,” Fincke said.

Like the first X Prize flight last week, the choice of pilot was not announced until the pre-dawn hours before the scheduled takeoff.

Binnie was at the controls when SpaceShipOne broke the sound barrier for the first time on a December test flight, which was marred when the craft hit the runway of Mojave Airport hard upon landing and veered into the brush where a landing gear collapsed. This time his landing was flawless.

Melvill flew a perfect trajectory on the Sept. 29 X Prize flight but the craft developed an unintended roll as it neared space. The craft completed the flight safely.

Monday’s flight appeared to take place without any troubles.

The Ansari X Prize requires a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to make two flights to an altitude of 328,000 feet, or just above 62 miles, within 14 days.

Although the competition flights carry only the pilot and the weight equivalent of two other people, the goal is to establish that a passenger-carrying rocket can reach space and then do it again, as a space liner business would.

Created by designer Burt Rutan and funded with more than $20 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, SpaceShipOne’s effort has drawn high-level attention from the U.S. government.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe came to Mojave to watch last week’s flight.

Blakey’s agency and members of the developing industry are in talks about regulatory aspects of space tourism, particularly the safety of the uninvolved public on the ground as well as that of passengers.

Patti Grace Smith, associate administrator for the FAA’s office of commercial space transportation, said the excitement around the X Prize has begun to draw the interest of the investment community as well.

“I’m starting to get calls from brokers … who want to lead other brokers as their investment houses are looking out to advise clients who are looking to invest. That’s brand new,” she said during a visit to Xcor Aerospace, a Mojave company also developing a passenger spaceship.

The St. Louis-based Ansari X Prize was founded in 1996 to kickstart private-sector development of rocket ships that would make spaceflight available to the public.

Founder Diamandis hoped the multimillion-dollar incentive would have the same effect on space travel as happened with air travel after Charles Lindbergh made his solo trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 to claim the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

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