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Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,

Astronaut Mike Melvill after his September 29, 2004 spaceflight.
Role Spaceplane
Manufacturer Scaled Composites
Designed by Burt Rutan
First flight 20 May 2003
Retired 4 October 2004
Status Museum piece
Primary user Mojave Aerospace Ventures
Number built 1
Variants SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipOne is a spaceplane that completed the first privately funded human spaceflight on June 21, 2004. It was developed by Scaled Composites.

SpaceShipOne was developed by Mojave Aerospace Ventures (A joint venture between Paul Allen and Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's aviation company, in their Tier One program), without government funding. On June 21, 2004, it made the first privately funded human spaceflight, and on October 4, it won the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE, by reaching 100 kilometers in altitude twice in a two-week period with the equivalent of three people on board, with no more than ten percent of the non-fuel weight of the spacecraft replaced between flights. Development costs were estimated to be $25 million, funded completely by Paul Allen.

During its testing regimen, SpaceShipOne set a number of important "firsts", including first privately funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2 and Mach 3, first privately funded manned spacecraft to exceed 100km altitude, and first privately funded reusable manned spacecraft.

SpaceShipOne is an experimental air-launched suborbital spaceplane that uses a hybrid rocket motor. The design features a unique "feathering" atmospheric reentry system where the rear half of the wing and the twin tail booms folded upward along a hinge running the length of the wing; this increased drag while remaining stable. The achievements of SpaceShipOne are more comparable to the X-15 than orbiting spacecraft like the Space Shuttle. Accelerating a spacecraft to orbital speed requires more than 60 times as much energy as lifting it to 100 km.

A common misattribution to SpaceShipOne is the first privately funded spacecraft, without qualifying it as manned. Prior unmanned privately funded space flights were successfully achieved by the Orbital Sciences Pegasus since 1990 and the Civilian Space eXploration Team 5 weeks earlier in May 2004. Scaled is also the subcontractor to Orbital Sciences who builds the composite wings and fins of their Pegasus rockets.


SpaceShipOne landing after its June 21, 2004 space flight
SpaceShipOne landing after its June 21, 2004 space flight

SpaceShipOne is registered with the FAA as N328KF. N is the prefix for US-registered aircraft; 328KF was chosen by Scaled Composites to stand for 328 kilo feet (about 100 kilometers), the officially designated edge of space. The original choice of registry number, N100KM, was already taken. N328KF is registered as a glider, reflecting the fact that most of its independent flight is unpowered.

SpaceShipOne's first flight, 01C, was an unmanned captive carry flight test on May 20, 2003. Glide tests followed, starting with flight 03G on August 7, 2003. Its first powered flight, flight 11P, was made on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight.

On April 1, 2004, Scaled Composites received the first license for sub-orbital rocket flights to be issued by the US Office of Commercial Space Transportation. This license permitted the company to conduct powered test flights over the course of one year. On June 17, 2004, Mojave Airport reclassified itself (part-time) as the Mojave Spaceport.

Flight 15P on June 21, 2004, was SpaceShipOne's first spaceflight, and the first privately funded human spaceflight. Ansari X PRIZE flights followed, with flight 17P on October 4, 2004, winning the prize.

The SpaceShipOne Team was awarded the Space Achievement Award by the Space Foundation in 2005.


SpaceShipOne now hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
SpaceShipOne now hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

SpaceShipOne's spaceflights were watched by large crowds at Mojave Spaceport. A fourth suborbital flight, Flight 18P, was originally scheduled for October 13, 2004. However, Burt Rutan decided not to risk damage to the historic craft, and cancelled it and all future flights.

On July 25, 2005 SpaceShipOne was taken to the Oshkosh Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the airshow, Mike Melvill and crew flew the White Knight, carrying SpaceShipOne, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where Mike spoke to a group of about 300 military and civilian personnel. Later in the evening, Mike gave a presentation at the Dayton Engineers Club, entitled "Some Experiments in Space Flight", in honor of Wilbur Wright's now famous presentation to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1901 entitled "Some Experiments in Flight." The White Knight then transported SpaceShipOne to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum to be put on display. It was unveiled on Wednesday October 5, 2005 in the Milestones of Flight gallery and is now on display to the public in the main atrium between the Spirit of St. Louis and the Bell X-1.

SpaceShipOne became a popular model rocket in 2004. Estes Industries currently offers several flying model rockets of SpaceShipOne. A piece of SpaceShipOne's carbon fiber material was launched aboard the New Horizons mission to Pluto in 2006.


SpaceShipOne Replica in normal configuration
SpaceShipOne Replica in normal configuration

A year after its appearance in the Oshkosh Airventure airshow, the Experimental Aircraft Association featured a full-scale replica of the spacecraft in a wing of its museum which housed other creations of Burt Rutan. Using the same fiberglass molds as the original, it was so exact in its replication - despite not having any doors or interior - that it was dubbed "Serial 2 Scaled" by Scaled Composites. Each and every painstaking detail in its appearance was matched, down to the N328KF registration number on its fuselage. It is so precise that, during a video presentation held every hour in the museum, it can display the two different modes of its 'feathering' ability, albeit through the aid of pulleys and wires (there is no machinery in the replica).

Future efforts

The development of a larger, more powerful space plane capable of reaching 120 km was announced in 2004. It will be named Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, and is currently under development by The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, as part of the Tier 1b program. The Virgin Galactic spaceliner plans to operate a fleet of five of these craft in passenger-carrying private spaceflight service starting no earlier than 2011.

The vehicle itself will not be unveiled to the public until just before flight testing starts, expected in late 2009. Following a series of 50 – 100 test flights, the first paying customers are expected to fly aboard the craft in 2011. In August 2005, Virgin Galactic stated that if the upcoming suborbital service with SpaceShipTwo is successful, the follow-up SpaceShipThree will be an orbital craft.


SpaceShipOne in flight.
SpaceShipOne in flight.

Cockpit of White Knight while in flight.
Cockpit of White Knight while in flight.

All of the flights of SpaceShipOne were from the Mojave Airport Civilian Flight Test Center. Flights were numbered, starting with flight 01 on May 20, 2003. One or two letters are appended to the number to indicate the type of mission. An appended C indicates that the flight was a captive carry, G indicates an unpowered glide, and P indicates a powered flight. If the actual flight differs in category from the intended flight, two letters are appended: the first indicating the intended mission and the second the mission actually performed.

In the table below, the "top speed" reported is the Mach number at burn-out (the end of the rocket burn). This is not an absolute speed.

SpaceShipOne flights
Flight Date Top speed Altitude Duration Pilot
01C May 20, 2003 1 h 48 min unmanned
02C July 29, 2003 2 h 06 min Mike Melvill
03G August 7, 2003 0 h 19 min Mike Melvill
04GC August 27, 2003 1 h 06 min Mike Melvill
05G August 27, 2003 10 min 30 s Mike Melvill
06G September 23, 2003 12 min 15 s Mike Melvill
07G October 17, 2003 17 min 49 s Mike Melvill
08G November 14, 2003 19 min 55 s Peter Siebold
09G November 19, 2003 12 min 25 s Mike Melvill
10G December 4, 2003 13 min 14 s Brian Binnie
11P December 17, 2003 Mach 1.2 20.7 km 18 min 10 s Brian Binnie
12G March 11, 2004 18 min 30 s Peter Siebold
13P April 8, 2004 Mach 1.6 32.0 km 16 min 27 s Peter Siebold
14P May 13, 2004 Mach 2.5 64.3 km 20 min 44 s Mike Melvill
15P June 21, 2004 Mach 2.9 100.1 km 24 min 05 s Mike Melvill
16P September 29, 2004 Mach 2.92 102.9 km 24 min 11 s Mike Melvill
17P October 4, 2004 Mach 3.09 112.0 km 23 min 56 s Brian Binnie

The flights were accompanied by two chase planes; an Extra 300 owned and flown by Chuck Coleman, and a Beechcraft Starship.


The SpaceShipOne pilots came from a variety of aerospace backgrounds. Mike Melvill is a test pilot, Brian Binnie was a Navy pilot, and Doug Shane and Peter Siebold are engineers at Scaled Composites. They qualified to fly SpaceShipOne by training on the Tier One flight simulator and in White Knight and other Scaled Composites aircraft.


Rear view
Rear view

Data from

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Capacity: 2 passengers
  • Length: 16 ft 5 in (5 m)
  • Wingspan: 16 ft 5 in (5 m)
  • Height: ()
  • Wing area: 161.4 ft² (15 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,640 lb (1,200 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 7,920 lb (3,600 kg)
  • Powerplant:N2O/HTPB SpaceDev Hybrid rocket motor, 7,500 kgf (74 kN)
  • Isp: 250 s (2450 Ns/kg)
  • Burn time: 87 seconds
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.6



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Published in July 2009.

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