October 1, 2004 11:39 AM PDT
SpaceShipOne to launch again Monday
The second voyage of Paul Allen's Mojave Aerospace Venture spacecraft on Monday will attempt once again to crack the Earth-space barrier of 100km in altitude. The craft broke the 100km mark on Wednesday, completing the first step in winning the prize.
The Ansari X Prize was started in 1996 to stimulate privatized commercial space tourism. It will award $10 million to the first team that can propel a spacecraft to 100km, land it and repeat the feat within two weeks.
About 24 other teams from six countries are trying to build their own spacecrafts, but have not advanced as quickly as Mojave. Some concepts range from a design based on Nazi Germany's V-2 rocket to launching a spacecraft off a gigantic hot-air balloon.
Questions about the launch date have flourished after SpaceShipOne went into an uncontrollable spin moments before it reached its apex. Members of the team were unable to explain the "roll," and could not determine whether it was caused by a design flaw or pilot error.
Despite the stomach-wrenching roll, SpaceShipOne could become the first step toward sending common people into space. On Monday, Sir Richard Branson said he would begin offering space flights in 2007 with crafts based on SpaceShipOne's design. Travelers will pay Virgin Galactic, as Branson's business is named, nearly $200,000 to fly out of Earth's atmosphere and experience the weightlessness of space.
Burt Rutan, who conceived the idea of SpaceShipOne, used aircraft concepts in designing the space craft. A larger aircraft, called White Knight, carries the smaller SpaceShipOne under its belly and uses rockets to propel the tandem to an altitude of about 14km. Once it reaches that height, SpaceShipOne detaches, fires up its engine and then rockets up toward the required altitude.
SpaceShipOne then falls back to Earth by changing its wing configuration into "feather" mode in which its wings fold to act like a kite. When the craft falls to a certain altitude in the Earth's atmosphere, the wings return to their original shape and SpaceShipOne glides back to the runway.
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