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SpaceShipOne Surpasses 100 Km Altitude on First X-Prize Flight

  • Thursday, 30th September 2004
  • Reading time: about 2 minutes

The first private manned rocket reached space on Wednesday in a bid to earn the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

SpaceShipOne reached a peak altitude of 337,500 ft on Wednesday morning from the airport in the desert north of Los Angeles, and successfully completed the first of two X-Prize flights.

The event was the first of two flights scheduled to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

The mission did experience some tense moments as SpaceShipOne appeared to go into an unexpected roll when the pilot shut down its main engine sooner than expected, following the high-altitude drop. Mike Melvill, the pilot, noted that his altitude predictor exceeded the required 100 km mark. The motor burn lasted 77 seconds – 1 second longer than on the June 21st flight. Melvill was prepared to burn the motor up to 89 seconds, which indicates significant additional performance remains in SS1.

Mr Melvill addressed the crowd of invited VIP’s and media that the flight had been “”fun”” and that he felt he had really “”nailed it””. He did add that the craft had surprised him with its “”little victory roll””, and he had shut down the engines 11 seconds prematurely as a result.

“”Did I plan the roll? I’d like to say I did but I didn’t,”” Melvill explained. “”You’re extremely busy at that point. Probably I stepped on something too quickly and caused the roll but it’s nice to do a roll at the top of the climb.””

A number of worldwide teams are building, testing, and flying hardware to compete for the Ansari X Prize. The X Prize Foundation hopes to galvanise a start for a space tourism industry through competition among entrepreneurs and rocket experts. The X Prize will go to the first craft that safely completes two flights to an altitude of 328,000 feet, or 62 miles, in a 14-day span.

To claim the prize, SpaceShipOne must now repeat the flight once more within two weeks. A second launch has been scheduled for next Monday, 4 October.

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