SpaceShip One X-Prize Flight #1 Launch Mike Melvill





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Published on Dec 3, 2009

SpaceShipOne launches from White Knight carrier airplane on the first of two X-Prize winning flights in 2004.

Flight 16P of SpaceShipOne was a spaceflight in the Tier One program that took place on September 29, 2004. It was the first competitive flight in the Ansari X PRIZE competition to demonstrate a non-governmental reusable manned spacecraft, and is hence also referred to as the X1 flight. A serious roll excursion occurred during boost, so the flight did not achieve the expected altitude. However, it exceeded 100 km altitude, making it a successful X PRIZE flight.
After takeoff, White Knight and SpaceShipOne ascended to the launch altitude, planned to be around 14 km. At 08:09 SpaceShipOne was released, glided for 6 s, then went into nose-up attitude and the rocket motor was ignited. The rocket motor was capable of burning for approximately 87 s, having been upgraded since the previous flight. It was planned to shut off the motor at an altitude of 345,000 feet (105 km), presumably to avoid pushing the envelope too far.

The spacecraft started rolling rapidly 50 s into the burn, while travelling at Mach 2.7. This was probably due to, or at least exacerbated by, pilot error. The pilot was not highly concerned by this, being confident that he could correct the situation, and he allowed the burn to continue during the roll. He later said "I thought it was kind of cool".

The apogee altitude was estimated by the nearby Edwards Air Force Base, based on radar data, to be 337,569 feet (102.9 km). Due to the early burn cutoff, this was far less than originally anticipated.

Overall, the craft did 29 complete rolls. Atmospheric reentry proceeded normally, with the craft rapidly righting its attitude due to the stable high-drag configuration. It changed back to gliding configuration normally, glided back to the spaceport, and landed safely at 08:34.


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