Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

15 Years Ago Today….

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 29, 2019
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Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

Fifteen years ago today on Sept. 29, 2004, Mike Melvill lit SpaceShipOne’s hybrid engine in the skies over the Mojave Desert and flew to an altitude of 102.93 km (337,697 ft) before gliding back to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

It was Melvill’s second space flight in the rocket plane that Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites built. And it was the first of two flights required for to win the $10 Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed spacecraft to reach space twice within two weeks.

Melvill didn’t have an entirely smooth flight. The spacecraft rolled 29 times during ascent before he was able to bring the ship under control.

Melvill admitted in 2014 there was an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he would shut off the engine if the vehicle started rolling. But, he and Rutan were not sure it was a good idea to shut off the engine.

Melvill added that as a shareholder in Scaled Composites, he didn’t want to risk not winning the $10 million prize, which was set to expire in three months at the end of 2004.

Five days after Melvill’s hair-raising flight, Brian Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne on a trouble-free flight tin win the Ansari X Prize. Binnie flew to 112.014 km (367,454 ft), breaking the X-15’s record of 107.96 km (354,200 ft) set in 1963.

It was SpaceShipOne’s final flight. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who spent $28 million backing Rutan’s entry in the competition, decided to retire the spacecraft. He accepted an offer to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution. SpaceShipOne hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Allen licensed the technology to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Scaled Composites and Virgin embarked on building the much larger SpaceShipTwo vehicle to fly tourists into space. Commercial flights are scheduled to begin next year.

7 responses to “15 Years Ago Today….”

  1. savuporo says:

    If it just wasn’t for the chronic shortage of handwavium, we’d all be commuting to joyous side of the moon in private rocketships

  2. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    False start. Dead end so far. Good luck Blue and Virgin.

  3. Dave Salt says:

    Just saw this and thought it may throw some perspective on Sir Richard’s current incentives…….

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      $219 million is about the amount of his original investment. I am skeptical of the $880 million investment figure. It would be interesting to see documentation on it.

      • Dave Salt says:

        I would also be interested to see the documentation on these investments – I believe the original sum was ₤25m. Also, my understanding is that Branson ‘invested’ Virgin Group money into VG so, unlike Bezos and Musk, he did not risk his own personal wealth directly. However, I’m sure he’d claim that his personal wealth is reflected in the Virgin Group’s value and so he has risked his own money… and reputation.

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