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Introduction to Space Exploration - Spaceshipone

prize flight ansari navigation

SpaceShipOne was the first privately built and financed craft to fly a human into space. For more than FIGURE 1.5 Terrestrial navigation system Joe Kunches, "Figure 1. The Paths Taken by a Radio Wave Transmitted by a Terrestrial Navigation System," in Space Environment Topics: Navigation, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Space Environment Laboratory, 1995, (accessed December 28, 2005)FIGURE 1.6 Space-based navigation system Joe Kunches, "Figure 2. Ground Stations Monitor the Information from the Satellites and Upload Changes as Needed to Ensure that the Navigation Information is Accurate," in Space Environment Topics: Navigation, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Space Environment Laboratory, 1995, (accessed December 28, 2005)three decades the only way for humans to access space was through government-operated space programs. This all changed on June 21, 2004, when SpaceShipOne carried pilot Mike Melvill (1941–) to an altitude of 62.2 miles (100.1 kilometers). One hundred kilometers is the boundary of space as defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

SpaceShipOne was designed and built by Scaled Composites, a California-based firm. The funding was provided by American billionaire Paul G. Allen (1953–), cofounder of the icrosoft Corporation. Allen financed the project as a way to have some meaningful impact on FIGURE 1.7 White Knight and SpaceShipOne in flight "SpaceShipOne," in PDF Graphics: Space Flight Profile in June 21 Space Flight Electronic Press Kit, Scaled Composites, LLC, June 21, 2004, (accessed January 4, 2005) © 2004 Mojave AerospaceVentures LLC; SpaceShipOne is a Paul G. Allen exploration. During development of SpaceShipOne, Allen became aware of the Ansari X Prize—a $10 million prize offered by private investors to the developers of the first nongovernmental reusable space plane. The Ansari X Prize was the brainchild of Peter Diamandis (1961–), an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur in space tourism. His inspiration was the Orteig prize, which was won in 1927 by aviator Charles Lindbergh, when he flew nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Paris. Lindbergh's flight incited interest and investment in aviation. Diamandis believed his prize would launch another new industry, private space travel.

In 1994 Diamandis started the X Prize Foundation to raise money for the prize. His first investors were businesspeople in St. Louis, Missouri, the same city that played a key role in Lindbergh's flight many years before. Over the next decade Diamandis received support from a number of backers, including science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh. However, the foundation still struggled to raise the funds it needed.

In 2004 the foundation received a financial boost. Space enthusiasts Anousheh Ansari and her brother-in-law Amir Ansari made a multi-million-dollar contribution to the prize fund. The Ansaris were born in Iran but had immigrated to the United States and formed a successful telecommunications business. The X prize was renamed the Ansari X Prize in their honor.

By 2004 dozens of teams were developing rockets and spacecraft to vie for the prize. The rules required that the spacecraft carry three people (or at least one person plus the equivalent weight of two people) to an altitude of at least 100 kilometers. The feat had to be accomplished twice within a two-week period using the same spacecraft.

Scaled Composites used a two-part flight sequence to boost SpaceShipOne into space. A manned twin-turbojet plane called White Knight lifted off from a runway carrying the smaller manned space plane attached to its belly. (See Figure 1.7.) After reaching an altitude of approximately 47,000 feet, the space plane was released. Immediately its rockets were fired to propel it vertically into space. It then turned and reentered the atmosphere and glided to a landing at the same air strip from which it took off.

On September 29, 2004, SpaceShipOne achieved an altitude of 63.9 miles (102.8 km) with pilot Mike Melvill at the controls. The successful flight garnered international media coverage and increased interest in the competition. On October 4, 2004, a large crowd gathered at an airstrip in Mojave, California, to watch SpaceShipOne attempt to make history. They were not disappointed. Brian Binnie (1953–) took the space plane to an altitude of 69.6 miles (112 km) to win the Ansari X Prize. The news was broadcast around the world, and President George W. Bush telephoned the team to offer his congratulations.

The people behind the Ansari X Prize and SpaceShipOne purposely used parallels to events in aeronautical history to build their legacy. The concept of the prize drew upon the symbolism and romanticism attached to Lindbergh's heroic flight. Important announcements and flights were conducted on dates of significance to space enthusiasts. The first test flight of SpaceShipOne to break the sound barrier occurred on December 17, 2003—the one hundredth anniversary of the first powered flight of the Wright Brothers. The Ansari's multi-million-dollar contribution to the X Prize fund was announced on May 5, 2004, the forty-third anniversary of Alan Shepard's flight into space. The date October 4 was chosen as the day for SpaceShipOne's prize-winning flight attempt, because it was the date in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to go into space.

According to Diamandis, the X in X prize stood for the Roman numeral ten (as in the $10 million prize) and for the X in "experimental" (as in the famous X series of experimental planes flown during the 1950s and 1960s). The X series flights were extremely important to the development of space travel. The White Knight carrier plane was named after two of the test pilots who flew the X-15. SpaceShipOne's prize-winning flight broke the altitude record set by an X-15 in 1963, a record that had stood for more than four decades.

However, the achievements of SpaceShipOne will likely be remembered for their effects on the future of aeronautics, not their ties to the past. The first nongovernmental manned space flight offers tantalizing prospects for private individuals to travel into space. It may represent the birth of a new industry and a means for many people to experience the adventure of space flight. (For further information on SpaceShipOne, see Chapter 3.)

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