Monday, June 21, 2004

Finally! The REAL First Step for Man...

Yahoo! News Story - BREAKING NEWS: SpaceShipOne is Airborne

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer,

Updated 10:00 a.m. ET. This story will be updated throughout the flight. Refresh browser for latest version.

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA Tucked underneath its carrier aircraft, the privately-built SpaceShipOne departed from an airstrip here at about 9:47 a.m. ET prepared to trail blaze its way into history by attempting the first non-governmental flight to leave the Earth's atmosphere.

Early morning winds were brisker than some mornings but light enough for the mission to begin. The White Knight mothership roared off from the Mojave Airport in front of thousands of spectators, toting skyward the SpaceShipOne with pilot Mike Melvill onboard.

The pair of mated vehicles will take roughly one hour to reach 47,000 feet a few miles to the northeast from its takeoff point. At that altitude, and barring any technical difficulties, the White Knight will let loose SpaceShipOne.

In freefall mode, SpaceShipOne will glide for a few seconds. Pilot Melvill then lights the rocket plane's hybrid rocket motor for 80 seconds, pushing the craft onto a suborbital trajectory to the edge of space.

Skirting to high above Earth would earn Melvill a set of astronaut wings - the first person to do so in a non-government sponsored vehicle, and the first private civilian to fly a spaceship out of the atmosphere.

Today's flight plan

Once free of the mothership, SpaceShipOne's flight is slated to last roughly 25 minutes. It will rocket to space, with craft and crewmember spending about three minutes in weightless outside Earth's atmosphere before re-entering and heading for terra firma.

In the reentry process, a critical maneuver involves the pilot flipping up of the craft's tail section, needed to properly slow the vehicle down as it heads for a landing strip touchdown.

Gliding back toward Mojave, SpaceShipOne is to circle overhead, then land directly in front of a public viewing area on the same runway on which it took off about 1 hour and 25 minutes earlier.

SpaceShipOne's flight plan today should see the vehicle ascend to some 62 miles (100 kilometers) into sub-orbital space above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center, a commercial airport in the California desert. If successful, project officials at Scaled Composites, designer and builder of the rocket plane, say it will "demonstrate that the space frontier is finally open to private enterprise."

"This event could be the breakthrough that will enable space access for future generations," explains a press statement from Scaled Composites.

Step-by-step test program

Microsoft co-founder turned investor and philanthropist, Paul Allen is bankrolling the project, joining forces with aviation designer, Burt Rutan, chief of Scaled Composites.

Since the White Knight carrier plane first took to the air in early August 2002, a step-by-step test program has been instituted by Scaled Composites. To date, there have been 56 flights of hardware associated with today's piloted mission of SpaceShipOne.

The rocket plane itself has undertaken a series of 14 piloted captive carry, free-flight, and three engine-powered missions. SpaceShipOne's last flight on May 13 burned its hybrid motor for 55 seconds, enabling the craft's pilot, Mike Melvill, to coast to a height of 211,400 feet (approximately 40 miles). That was the highest altitude, to date, ever reached by a non-government aerospace program with the hope of breaking that milestone within a few hours.

If the space flight attempt today proves successful, SpaceShipOne later this year is to fly back-to-back missions in an attempt to snag the $10 million Ansari X Prize. This international competition can be won by the first team to create a reusable aircraft that can launch three passengers into sub-orbital space, return them safely home, then repeat the launch within two weeks with the same vehicle.

Risky business

Today's flight by SpaceShipOne to the end of air and start of space is a precursor mission en route to snag the X Prize.

"This is basically the qualifying flighta pre-Ansari X Prize flight," said Peter Diamandis, Chairman, President and Founder of the X Prize Foundation. "And if everything goes wellthen we're waiting to get 60 days notice. That will then kick off a run for the prize."

What's being attempted today remains risky business, Diamandis told

"The fact of the matter is we didn't start this off to bring about the birth of one ship. Our goal is a fleet of different ships able to make this happen. While Rutan has a tremendous track record, he only has one ship. We hope that the X Prize is won because a rising tide will float all the different X Prize ships," Diamandis explained.

"We need to remember that it's not a sure thing. This is research and development. This is risky business," he concluded.


Post a Comment

<< Home