Private spaceship completes $10-m prize flight

A private spaceship has won the $10-million Ansari X Prize after making a second successful flight into space in a week.

SpaceShipOne reached 368 000 feet, according to X Prize officials, well beyond the space threshold of 328 ,000 feet. The prize was offered for the first successful manned private space flight.

Former US navy test pilot Brian Binnie, 51, said the flight was shaky with “a little roll”, but nothing like the corkscrewing experienced by South African pilot Mike Melvill last week.

A specially-adapted jet, White Knight, took off from the California desert with the mini-spaceship attached to its belly at 13.47 GMT for its second journey out of Earth’s atmosphere in five days.

The sub-orbital flight comes after Melvill successfully took the craft to an altitude of 103km in the first leg of the X Prize drive on Wednesday .

Spectators’ and organisers’ hearts stopped when the craft rolled dozens of times at speeds of around 2 700km/h, corkscrewing through the sky before Melvill regained control.

He glided the craft back to earth for a text-book landing before proclaiming a “near perfect” flight, despite his “victory roll”.

Among the VIPs observing Monday’s history-making flight was British tycoon Richard Branson, who last week announced plans to join the private space race using a space vessel based on SpaceShipOne, organisers said.

Also present was the head of the US Federal Aviation Administration, Marion Blakey, who is responsible for regulating the spaceship. “I really believe its a historic thing, the beginning of personal transportation into space,” she said.

The revolutionary SpaceShipOne was designed and built by US aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who joined forces with Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen to launch the personal space “revolution” from a dusty airfield in the Mojave Desert.

Rutan selected the October 4 date to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the 1957 launch of the Soviet Union’s first satellite, Sputnik I, which sparked the original space race between Moscow and Washington.

Organisers who proposed the competition hope it will spawn an age of space travel rivalling the dawn of commercial air transport in the late 1920s.

“What we finally have here, after 40 years of waiting, is the beginning of the personal space flight revolution,” said Peter Diamandis, president of the X Prize Foundation.

In June SpaceShipOne became the world’s first ever manned space vessel not funded by a government when Melvill took it into sub-orbit for the first time.

The X Prize, funded by private donors, was established in 1996 and modelled on the $25,000 Orteig prize that aviator Charles Lindbergh won when he became the first solo pilot to cross the Atlantic in 1927.
His feat gave birth to airlines and allowed ordinary people to fly.

To win the X Prize, the same reusable manned spacecraft was required to make two journeys into space within two weeks while carrying the equivalent weight of two passengers.

SpaceShipOne was Rutan’s brainchild and was funded by Allen, who joined Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, to form the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team behind SpaceShipOne. - Sapa-AFP

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