Little Bits of History

SpaceShipOne

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 21, 2011

SpaceShipOne landing

June 21, 2004: SpaceShipOne is the first privately funded space plane to achieve space flight. Flight 15P took off from Mohave, California at 14:50 UTC [6:50 PDT] and landed again at the Mohave Airport & Spaceport at 15:15 UTC [7:17 PDT]. The flight had a crew of one, Mike Melvill. The mission lasted 24 minutes, was suborbital, and reached an apogee of 62.214 miles and a speed of 2150 mph or Mach 2.9. The taxiing was to begin at 6:30 AM local time, but was slightly delayed.

The White Knight airplane began its taxi at 6:37 and took off at 6:47. After reaching 47,000 feet, SpaceShipOne separated from the airplane at 6:50 and immediately fired its rocket. Shortly after separation and firing the rocket booster, at an altitude of 60,000 feet, the spaceship suddenly rolled about 90 degrees to the left due to wind shear. The pilot attempted to correct it and it then rolled about 90 degrees to the right. Finally leveled out, the climb proceeded. There was a safely system installed to correct the roll and it worked, however the pilot also corrected the roll. The spacecraft’s attitude was a problem throughout the climb and not corrected until the beginning of the re-entry phase.

The rocket burned for 76 seconds. As the rocket stopped firing, the craft was at 180,000 feet. The plan was for the craft to climb to 360,000 feet, but because of the attitude issue, it reached only 328,491 feet or 100.124 km. the boundary of space is at 100 km. While the space craft was high enough to be considered in space, the pilot experienced about 3.5 minutes of weightlessness. Melvill opened a bag of M&Ms and watched them float around the cabin. The next thing on the agenda was to return to Earth.

SpaceShipOne was about 22 miles south of its planned re-entry zone. Melvill managed to correct for this using a backup trim system. Deceleration of 5.0 g was achieved during descent. At 57,000 feet, a gliding configuration was assumed and the craft landed safely. After this success, it was immediately awarded the $10 million Ansari X Prize and the craft was retired. Building of SpaceShipOne was undertaken by Paul Allen [of Microsoft fame] and Scaled Composites [Burt Rutan’s aviation company]. Allen had provided about $25 million of the funding to create the craft. After SpaceShipOne was retired to a museum, it was followed by SpaceShipTwo.

“I am very excited to be supporting one of the world’s most visionary efforts to seek basic answers to some of the fundamental question about our universe and what other civilisations may exist elsewhere.”

“In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way.”

“The best museums and museum exhibits about science or technology give you the feeling that, hey, this is interesting, but maybe I could do something here, too.”

“The possible is constantly being redefined, and I care deeply about helping humanity move forward.” – all from Paul Allen

Also on this day:
Job Insecurity – In 1919, the Winnipeg Strike goes horribly wrong.
Manchester Baby – In 1948, the world’s first stored program computer worked.

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