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Science File

Team Plans First Private Spaceflight

June 05, 2004|From Associated Press

A team funded by billionaire Paul Allen will attempt to launch the first nongovernmental manned flight into space June 21, the group said Wednesday.

They hope to send SpaceShipOne, created by aviation designer Burt Rutan, to an altitude of 62 miles on a suborbital flight over the Mojave Desert.

The rocket plane reached an altitude of about 40 miles during a test flight May 13. Suborbital flights are essentially up and down. The craft does not reach speeds fast enough go into orbit around the Earth.

If the attempt is successful, the SpaceShipOne team will compete for the Ansari X Prize, a competition in which $10 million goes to the first reusable rocket able to carry three people into space on a suborbital flight, return them safely to Earth and repeat the feat within two weeks with the same vehicle.

A number of other private organizations are also developing contenders for the prize.

SpaceShipOne is carried aloft by a specially designed jet aircraft and then is dropped into a glide at about 50,000 feet. The pilot then fires the rocket motor and begins to climb.

This month's attempt will involve an 80-second rocket firing that will accelerate the craft to Mach 3. It will then coast to the target altitude before falling back to Earth. The pilot will experience weightlessness for more than three minutes. The glide back to the ground will take 15 to 20 minutes.

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