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BY SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Look back to the first X Prize launch of SpaceShipOne with our status center coverage as it appeared live on Sept. 29.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2004

SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill, struggling to regain control after the futuristic-looking craft went into an unexpected roll, shut down the spaceplane's engine 11 seconds early today in the first of two flights aimed at capturing the coveted X Prize. Read our full story.

1848 GMT (2:48 p.m. EDT)

Melvill describes the flight during the press conference:

"It was a comfortable, easy flight. The flight, for me, was great. I came off the hooks (from the White Knight carrier aircraft), started the engine, the engine started up just like clockwork, starting pulling back on the stick, trimming a little bit, and the airplane just went straight up. I couldn't believe how straight it was going. Last time I was all over the sky, and most of that was my own fault. I hate to say that, I actually made a mistake there. I got into it in the yaw-trim system and I got into a PIO (Pilot-Induced Oscillation) and all of that rolling you might have seen on the last flight (in June) was entirely me and not the vehicle.

"This time you didn't see any of that because I figured out the problem and fixed it. So it made a very nice, straight trajectory to the top. Then at the top we got a little bit of rolling motion going but I think it looks good for the crowd if you can roll at the top of the climb," he said prompting laughter in the audience.

"I think we did about 20 turns in roll and there were some pretty high rates there. But Burt has designed a system that allowed me to stop the rates. I turned on the reaction jets and I stopped the rates, brought it to a complete standstill in space. I even had time to pick up a still camera and take some pictures out of the window.

"And then (I) prepared the airplane for the descent and came back in and made a decent landing. And thank heavens for the the good weather. It was great.

"I hope you all enjoyed it. I sure enjoyed the ride."

1848 GMT (2:48 p.m. EDT)

Melvill says the rolling incident should not impact plans for the second of two X Prize launch attempts of SpaceShipOne. That launch is expected Monday.

"This is not going to affect the second attempt at all. The vehicle is ready to go. It won't take us but a day or two to put it together."

1840 GMT (2:40 p.m. EDT)

Melvill is expanding on his comments during a question and answer session of the news conference:

"Part of it is the speed. You are going at a tremendous speed and if you put any kind of a roll into it, it is going to ramp up very fast. But the roll rate was very controllable. I stopped the roll rate just using the normal controls of the airplane.

"I'm not sure what kicked it off. But I'm sure that when we know what it is we will tell everybody what it was. It was probably something that I did. I didn't think it was me last time. But boy when we looked at the data, there it was as big as life.

"So I'm inclined it is something I did. But I never felt uncomfortable.

"And I actually think it helped us," he continued with a smile. "We were spin-stabilized and we managed to keep the trajectory going -- we were perfectly on course. I'm very, very pleased at how it went."

1834 GMT (2:34 p.m. EDT)

Melvill is speaking to the post-flight news conference right now about the unplanned rolling motion.

"I don't think I made a mistake. Bear in mind we haven't be able to look closely at the data. We took a real quick look at and none of us are positive what caused that. It is possible that I stepped on a rudder when I shouldn't have. You get older you can do things like that. We will have to look and see what that was.

"It was at no time any worry for me. I knew the rates could be handled. I was very glad to see that I passed the altitude (62-mile threshold for X Prize) and I waited a little bit longer just to get a little altitude in hand and then I shut (the engine) down 11 seconds early. I had 11 seconds more of burn -- I could have gone to 360,000 feet today -- but I didn't think it was worth taking that kind of risk because we have a second flight to do. It is better to get the altitude, bring it back clean and undamaged."

1710 GMT (1:10 p.m. EDT)

By examining the video today's launch, it appears the SpaceShipOne's hybrid rocket motor ignited six seconds after release from the White Knight carrier plane. The unplanned rolling motion by SpaceShipOne became quite apparent 50 seconds into the firing. The engine was shut down 76 seconds after ignition, which is 11 seconds short of the scheduled 87-second burn duration.

From the time of White Knight separation to touchdown on the runway, SpaceShipOne completed a free flight last a few seconds over 24 minutes, equaling the time spent on the June test launch.

1620 GMT (12:20 p.m. EDT)

Mike Melvill just told reporters gathered at the runway that it was pilot error that caused the unplanned roll during the rocket engine firing of today's launch. He said SpaceShipOne performed properly and he was never worried during the flight, knowing he could damp out the roll motion. Once he knew the 62-mile target altitude would be reached, he commanded the engine to shut down. The cutoff occurred 11 seconds early.

Burt Rutan says the data will be examined closely, but at this point officials expect to conduct the second X Prize launch attempt within the next two weeks as required for the contest.

Melvill quipped that the craft just needs to be refueled and it'll be ready to go.

1600 GMT (12:00 p.m. EDT)

We will pause our live updates for now. A post-flight press conference is coming up later today. And check back for a complete report, pictures and video clips of this hair-raising flight.

1557 GMT (11:57 a.m. EDT)

Rutan says the situation will have to be analyzed. But the burn lasted long enough to reach the 62-mile threshold for X Prize. If the 62-mile mark was met and SpaceShipOne flies within two weeks, Rutan's group will win the $10 million prize.

1556 GMT (11:56 a.m. EDT)

After ending the engine burn, Melvill used the control system to damp out the roll for a stable reentry.

1555 GMT (11:55 a.m. EDT)

""Now that was fun!" Melvill is telling the crowd. Due to the unexpected roll event, he shut down the rocket engine 11 seconds early because the spin rate was building up, he said.

1552 GMT (11:52 a.m. EDT)

The welcoming ceremony seems much more subdued than in June.

1551 GMT (11:51 a.m. EDT)

Mike Melvill has climbed from the ship, receiving greetings from Rutan, Paul Allen and X Prize officials.

1549 GMT (11:49 a.m. EDT)

Music is playing on loud speakers at the runway as SpaceShipOne comes closer to the crowds.

1545 GMT (11:45 a.m. EDT)

Crews have begun to tow SpaceShipOne from the runway with a pickup truck to the viewing spot for everyone to see.

1539 GMT (11:39 a.m. EDT)

Workers are continuing an upclose inspection of SpaceShipOne on the runway.

1539 GMT (11:39 a.m. EDT)

White Knight has landed.

1537 GMT (11:37 a.m. EDT)

During the SpaceShipOne launch in June, the craft experienced an uncontrolled roll. Officials blamed that incident on high-altitude winds and an actuator that had temporarily stopped working. It is not yet known what caused today's problem.

1535 GMT (11:35 a.m. EDT)

Ground crews are welcoming the craft at the end of the runway. They are already doing a visual inspection of the craft.

1534 GMT (11:34 a.m. EDT)

TOUCHDOWN! SpaceShipOne has landed safely, bringing Mike Melvill back to Earth after a seemingly frightening flight that experienced a major rolling motion during the engine firing.

1533 GMT (11:33 a.m. EDT)

The landing gear has been deployed.

1531 GMT (11:31 a.m. EDT)

Data and radar tracking information must be analyzed to confirm SpaceShipOne reached the 62-mile altitude defined by the X Prize contest. If the control system problem experienced during today's flight could be resolved, the ship would need to fly again within two weeks to win the $10 million prize.

1530 GMT (11:30 a.m. EDT)

Three chase planes are escorting SpaceShipOne in the ongoing descent.

1525 GMT (11:25 a.m. EDT)

The glide back to Mojave continues. Spectators can see the craft from the ground. Landing is expected in a few minutes.

1519 GMT (11:19 a.m. EDT)

SpaceShipOne appears to be intact and normal based upon onboard video.

1518 GMT (11:18 a.m. EDT)

SpaceShipOne is descending through 35,000 feet and cleared for landing.

1517 GMT (11:17 a.m. EDT)

A sonic boom has been heard in Mojave to herald the craft's return to Earth.

1516 GMT (11:16 a.m. EDT)

The descent continues. SpaceShipOne looks to be under good control as the wings are folded back down and locked for a powerless glide to landing on the runway.

1514 GMT (11:14 a.m. EDT)

The ship appears in a much smoother orientation following the major roll experienced at the end of the burn. The wings have feathered for the descent.

1512 GMT (11:12 a.m. EDT)

Altitude achieved was 330,000 feet, which was needed for the X Prize.

1512 GMT (11:12 a.m. EDT)

Altitude is now 250,000 feet. Craft appears from the tracking cameras to be in a tumble.

1511 GMT (11:11 a.m. EDT)

Engine cutoff.

1511 GMT (11:11 a.m. EDT)

The craft is in a major roll!

1510 GMT (11:10 a.m. EDT)

The vehicle is soaring 40 seconds into the burn.

1510 GMT (11:10 a.m. EDT)

IGNITION! SpaceShipOne is firing to space in pursuit of the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. EDT)

SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill has put the craft in a nose-up orientation for the vertical climb to space.

1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. EDT)

DROP! SpaceShipOne has been released from the White Knight mothership.

1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. EDT)

White Knight is in drop box.

1509 GMT (11:09 a.m. EDT)

Standing by for release. Speed is currently 130 knots.

1507 GMT (11:07 a.m. EDT)

All systems are reported "go" for launch.

1504 GMT (11:04 a.m. EDT)

Drop is just a couple of minutes away, mission officials now report.

1455 GMT (10:55 a.m. EDT)

Launch is approximately 20 minutes away, officials say.

1441 GMT (10:41 a.m. EDT)

It is now 30 minutes into the hour-long flight of the carrier aircraft to reach launch altitude for SpaceShipOne.

1435 GMT (10:35 a.m. EDT)

White Knight is climbing to the launch altitude by making wide circles over Mojave.

This twin-engine turbojet craft made its first flight in August 2002.

In addition to being the mothership to launch SpaceShipOne today, the White Knight's flying characteristics -- thrust-to-weight ratio and speed brakes -- allow it to be used as a flight simulator for SpaceShipOne pilot training.

1425 GMT (10:25 a.m. EDT)

Seconds after dropping from the belly of White Knight, the SpaceShipOne engine will be ignited under the control of astronaut Mike Melvill. There are two switches in the cockpit -- one to arm the engine, the other to fire it.

The engine will burn for approximately 80 seconds, propelling the spacecraft at least 62 miles above Earth for today's suborbital spaceflight.

SpaceShipOne is powered by a hybrid rocket motor. The innovative engine uses a solid, rubbery hydroxy-terminated polybutadiene propellant and nitrous oxide laughing gas as the oxidizer. Both are safe to handle and the oxidizer is self-pressurizing at room temperature, allowing SpaceShipOne to avoid the use of complicating turbopumps.

1411 GMT (10:11 a.m. EDT)

TAKEOFF! The White Knight carrier aircraft departs the runway at California's Mojave Airport to ferry SpaceShipOne 46,000 feet above the desert for launch. The craft with Melvill strapped aboard is scheduled to be dropped from White Knight in about one hour.

1410 GMT (10:10 a.m. EDT)

White Knight is in motion.

1407 GMT (10:07 a.m. EDT)

The small, low-altitude chase plane is now airborne. The large Rutan-designed Star Chaser chase aircraft will be taking off a little later.

1402 GMT (10:02 a.m. EDT)

Pilot Mike Melvill is waving out one of windows to the cheering crowds.

1400 GMT (10:00 a.m. EDT)

The White Knight and SpaceShipOne duo are rolling past spectators to reach the runway with swelling music playing in the background. Takeoff from the Mojave Airport will occur a short time from now.

1356 GMT (9:56 a.m. EDT)

White Knight has fired up its engines under clear, beautiful skies in the California high desert. Taxi to the runway is expected shortly.

1355 GMT (9:55 a.m. EDT)

Just as promised, the winds significantly decreased at sunrise. The first chase aircraft -- a single engine propeller plane -- is preparing for takeoff.

1347 GMT (9:47 a.m. EDT)

Officials at the runway have announced that engine start on White Knight is five to 10 minutes away.

1340 GMT (9:40 a.m. EDT)

Activities are running a bit behind the advertised timeline. Officials are hoping that winds ease after sunrise.

1338 GMT (9:38 a.m. EDT)

Astronaut Mike Melvill climbed aboard SpaceShipOne at daybreak this morning. The pilots of White Knight are also seated in carrier aircraft in advance of rollout to the runway.

1323 GMT (9:23 a.m. EDT)

Gusty winds at the runway are worrisome. Mission managers are hoping the winds ease as the sun rises over the California desert. The winds are a concern for takeoff of White Knight and the subsequent landing of SpaceShipOne.

1309 GMT (9:09 a.m. EDT)

The crowds at Mojave are being told to stick around after today's flight for a "major announcement" concerning the X Prize Foundation's future.

1305 GMT (9:05 a.m. EDT)

The White Knight and SpaceShipOne will be heading to the runway in about 25 minutes, officials report.

1235 GMT (8:35 a.m. EDT)

A key aspect of the X Prize is encouraging space tourism. The Futron Corporation has completed a Space Tourism Market Study, said to be the most comprehensive survey of customer demand for suborbital and orbital space tourism to date.

"Futron worked very hard over the course of several months to objectively and accurately analyze the space tourism market," said Phil McAlister, director of Futron's Space & Telecommunications Division. "We hope that our efforts, as captured in this report, will benefit the many people interested in this promising market."

Highlights of the study include:

  • The overall space tourism market is very promising, and could generate revenues in excess of $1 billion per year by 2021;
  • Suborbital space tourism will generate the largest demand, with the potential for 15,000 passengers and $700 million in revenues per year by 2021;
  • Orbital space tourism, while growing more slowly than its suborbital counterpart, will still have up to 60 passengers and $300 million in revenues per year by 2021;
  • Those interested in suborbital space tourism are demographically distinct from those interested in orbital tourism.
You can download the full report here.

1155 GMT (7:55 a.m. EDT)

Final pre-launch preparations are underway in the predawn darkness at California's Mojave airport for today's flight of SpaceShipOne. Mission officials have announced that Mike Melvill, the pilot of the June flight, will be the astronaut for today's launch.

The 63-year-old test pilot earned his astronaut wings during the June 21 launch that reached 62 miles -- widely considered to the edge of space. SpaceShipOne is expected to go at least that high today.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2004

The privately funded SpaceShipOne rocket plane will soar to the edge of space Wednesday during the first of two flights needed to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

The craft was loaded with its oxidizer fuel Tuesday, and weather forecasters are predicting favorable conditions for Wednesday's voyage.

The White Knight carrier aircraft with the SpaceShipOne craft mounted to its belly will taxi to the runway at California's Mojave airport at 6:30 a.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EDT; 1330 GMT). The duo is expected to be airborne around 6:45 a.m. PDT (9:45 a.m. EDT; 1345 GMT).

It will take about an hour for White Knight to reach an altitude of nearly 50,000 feet where SpaceShipOne is dropped at 7:45 a.m. PDT (10:45 a.m. EDT; 1445 GMT) to ignite its rocket engine and blast to the fringes of space.

After a powered flight of about 80 seconds, SpaceShipOne will coast up to an altitude in excess of 62 miles then reenter the atmosphere and glide to a landing on the Mojave runway by 8:30 a.m. PDT (11:30 a.m. EDT; 1530 GMT) to complete the brief suborbital trip.

The man who will pilot SpaceShipOne remains a secret. His identity will be revealed Wednesday morning.

SpaceShipOne was created by Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul G. Allen. It flew a similar flight in June that served as a full-scale rehearsal for two launches needed to win the X Prize.

The contest aims to promote private spaceflights and space tourism. Teams must design a spacecraft and launch a human into space, then repeat the flight within a two-week period.

If Wednesday's flight goes well, the Rutan team hopes to launch again October 4 to claim the $10 million prize.

The SpaceShipOne project has been well in front of competing teams. A Canadian rival had planned a launch in the coming days but has since scrubbed the attempt.

While claiming the X Prize remains the near-term goal, Richard Branson has signed a deal to use the SpaceShipOne technologies to develop the world's first privately funded spacecraft dedicated to carrying commercial passengers on spaceflights.

Branson's Virgin Group has formed Virgin Galactic -- a new company that plans to be become the first commercial space tourism operator.

"We've always had a dream of developing a space tourism business and Paul Allen's vision, combined with Burt Rutan's technological brilliance, have brought that dream a step closer to reality. The deals with both their companies, being announced (Monday), are just the start of what we believe will be a new era in the history of mankind, making the affordable exploration of space by human beings real," Branson said.

"We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring alive their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory and the amazing sensation of weightlessness. The development will also allow every country in the world to have their own astronauts rather than the privileged few."

Virgin Galactic will open for business by the beginning of 2005 and subject to the necessary safety and regulatory approvals begin operating flights from 2007, the group said in a press announcement.

"It is expected that around $100 million will be invested in developing the new generation of spaceships and ground infrastructure required to operate a suborbital space tourism experience. Over five years Virgin expects to create around 3,000 astronauts and the price per seat on each flight, which will include at least three days of pre-flight training, are expected to start at around $190,000," the announcement read.

"Virgin will reinvest the proceeds in developing a new generation of vehicles for further space ventures. To date the cheapest space tourism experiences in government built and taxpayer funded spaceships cost over $15,000,000 per seat."

"I backed the development of SpaceShipOne because I saw this as a great opportunity to demonstrate that space exploration could someday be within the reach of private citizens," Allen said. "Today's deal with Virgin represents the next stage in the evolution of the SpaceShipOne concept, and will likely be the first of a number of deals that will utilize the technology developed during its creation. I am very happy to have Virgin and Richard Branson as sponsors of our X Prize attempt and excited about space tourism."

"Our June space flight was flown with several new technologies that address both the cost and safety of manned spaceflight. These, combined with the lessons learned from our SpaceShipOne research program, will enable us to develop the finest suborbital operational systems possible," Rutan added.

"I am looking forward to getting started on the development program and the opportunity to work with Virgin on taking Paul Allen's vision to the next stage."

It is expected that Virgin Galactic will formally commence the contractual and design phase of the project after the conclusion of the Ansari X Prize flights and start construction of the first spaceship, the 'VSS ENTERPRISE' in 2005.

Read our earlier status center coverage.

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