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Winner of the $10m Ansari X-Prize, this suborbital passenger-carrying spaceplane was designed by Burt Rutan‘s Scaled Composites, famous for graphite composites, and also the integrating contractor for the former Roton. Following their successful bid to win the X-Prize, Scaled Composites are now turning their eyes to the next step: the development of a commecially viable passenger-carrying suborbital space vehicle.
SpaceShipOne features a rubber-nitrous oxide hybrid rocket engine and cold gas attitude control thrusters; a graphite/epoxy primary structure; 3-place, sea-level, shirt-sleeve cabin environment; a low maintenance thermal protection system; and a unique feathered reentry system.
The spaceplane is carried under the belly of Scaled Composites‘ White Knight carrier aircraft. The White Knight is a piloted, twin-turbojet research aircraft derived from the Proteus intended for high-altitude missions. Its first flight was on August 1, 2002. It provides a high-altitude airborne launch of SpaceShipOne. The White Knight is also equipped to flight-qualify all the SpaceShipOne systems, except rocket propulsion. The aircraft’s cockpit, avionics, life support systems, pneumatics, trim servos, data system, and electrical system components are identical to those installed in SpaceShipOne.
The White Knight drops SpaceShipOne at 50,000 ft. SpaceShipOne then climbs nearly vertically under power at a 3-4g acceleration. The hybrid engine burns out at Mach 3.5, 65 seconds after ignition. The spaceplane coasts to approximately 100 km. (328,000 ft.) before free-falling back to earth. Pilot and passengers experience microgravity above the atmosphere for 3.5 minutes.
Before reentry, the pilot raises SpaceShipOne‘s twin tails to vertical. This feathering approach stabilizes the spaceplane without need of pilot input. Reentry deceleration is up to 5gs. After reentry, the pilot returns the twin tails to horizontal, and SpaceShipOne glides to a runway landing.
WHITE KNIGHT TWO
SpaceShipTwo is the commercial follow-on to SpaceShipOne, designed to carry two pilots and six passengers on a suborbital space trip lasting two and a half hours. A scaled up version of its predecessor, SpaceShipTwo is dropped from beneath a larger version of the White Knight, dubbed White Knight Two. An order for five SpaceShipTwo/WK2 spacecraft was placed by Virgin Galactic in July of 2005.
Following on from SpaceShipTwo is SpaceShipThree, the ultimate objective: a HTOL TSTO spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.