Headlines > News > Space Race 2: SpaceShipOne, post X Prize

Space Race 2: SpaceShipOne, post X Prize

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:04 pm
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By Irene Mona Klotz: Cape Canaveral, FL, Mar. 15 (UPI) — With just three spaceflights under its wings, SpaceShipOne, the world’s first privately built space vehicle is headed toward an early and very public retirement this year.

The once-secret craft, which poignantly demonstrated human spaceflight is not solely the domain of governments and claimed the $10-million Ansari X Prize for commercial spaceflight in the process, will be relocated from its Mojave, Calif., roost to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

One important stop is scheduled along the way: the annual gathering of the party-faithful in Oshkosh, Wis., in July. It is among the members, supporters and enthusiasts of the Experimental Aircraft Association, host of the annual AirVenture show, that SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan first made his mark as an innovative and skilled creator of winged vehicles.

SpaceShipOne will arrive in style, tucked beneath the belly of the twin-engine turbojet White Knight, which three times last year gave the spaceplane a 50,000-foot boost into the sky to begin its climbs to sub-orbital space — more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth. The duo is scheduled to fly in July 25 for the start of the air show and remain on display for the week.

After that, the spaceship and its carrier take off for Dulles International Airport, 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. There, SpaceShipOne will be taken by truck to the museum on the Mall, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and will be placed on display in the Milestones of Flight hall, among icons of aviation history: the Wright Flyer, which in 1903 made the first powered, controlled flight; Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, which flew non-stop across the Atlantic in 1927, and Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, in 1947 the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound.

“Our collection is a celebration of firsts,” said museum director Jack Dailey.

Dailey’s comment came during an awards presentation earlier this month when Rutan, his partner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and the SpaceShipOne team received the museum’s 2005 Trophy for Current Achievement.

Now, Allen — who bankrolled the $20 million program — and Rutan are donating their creation to the museum.

“Paul Allen, Burt Rutan and their team are the kind of visionaries who unlock the mysteries of flight and create new ways for us to explore our world and beyond,” Dailey said.

The museum already houses four other Rutan planes, including Voyager, which circumnavigated the globe non-stop and without refueling in 1986. One of the pilots, Rutan’s brother Dick Rutan, wrestled with Voyager during the nine-day journey. No word yet if Rutan’s GlobalFlyer, Voyager’s successor that carried solo pilot Steve Fossett on a similar but much-faster journey this month, will be joining its famed brethren.

Meanwhile, Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, in Mojave, business is booming. In addition to its aviation work, the company is developing a fleet of commercial sub-orbital vessels for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Scaled is looking at buying a 65,000-square-foot hangar this year and adding about 70 employees, bringing its total staff up to about 200, company vice president Kevin Mickey said in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News.

Virgin chief Richard Branson is investing about $100 million for a fleet of five spaceships and ground support. Commercial space service aboard Virgin Galactic is expected to begin in 2007 or 2008.

As SpaceShipOne approaches retirement, the Canadian team that for a brief time promised to challenge Rutan and Allen for the $10-million Ansari X Prize, remains committed to a demonstration sub-orbital flight this year, Brian Feeney, head of the all-volunteer da Vinci Program in Canada, told UPI’s Space Race 2.

The delays are forcing Feeney to return to fund-raising, but so far the effort to develop the Wild Fire rocket remain on track.

Another contender, Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, suffered a setback this week when a botched engine test left its vehicle in pieces. The craft’s electronics escaped relatively unscathed, but the frame was wrecked and the tank damaged beyond repair.

“Both of our last two crashes were due to engine problems, rather than electronics problems,” Armadillo’s founder John Carmack wrote in an online status report. “We need to get a truly reliable engine before we fly another vehicle.”

Despite the setbacks, other teams have not fared nearly as well. Last month, Space Transport Corp. of Forks, Wash., pulled up stakes and auctioned off equipment, having failed to raise enough funds to keep the company afloat. The company lost its 12-foot Rubicon rocket last year in a launch accident.

Company co-founder Phillip Storm told the local paper that proceeds from the equipment sales was to be used to pay bills. Anything left would be saved “until we figure out our future plans,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Peninsula Daily News.

The X Prize Foundation, whose award brought these teams together to compete, hopes many former contenders, as well as newcomers, now will participate in an annual exposition of commercial spaceflight called the X Prize Cup.

This year, a four-day event, featuring what the foundation is calling the “Personal Spaceflight Exposition,” is planned in New Mexico. Races and competitions of sub-orbital vehicles are expected to debut in 2006.

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