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Private Spacecraft's Inaugural Launch Set for June 21

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  • Michael Korns
    Private Spacecraft s Inaugural Launch Set for June 21 Wed Jun 2,12:10 PM ET Add Science - Space.com to My Yahoo! By Leonard David Senior Space Writer,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2004
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      Private Spacecraft's Inaugural Launch Set for June 21

      Wed Jun 2,12:10 PM ET Add Science - Space.com to My Yahoo!

      By Leonard David
      Senior Space Writer, SPACE.com

      A privately-developed rocket plane will launch into history on June
      21 on a mission to become the world's first commercial manned space
      vehicle.

      The pilot of the craft, still to be announced, will become the first
      person to earn astronaut wings in a non-government sponsored vehicle,
      and the first private civilian to fly a spaceship out of the
      atmosphere.

      That's the word today from Scaled Composites in the Mojave,
      California desert -- designer and builder of SpaceShipOne. The
      announcement is the first time the group has pre-announced a high-
      altitude run of its piloted rocketship.


      Investor and philanthropist Paul Allen and aviation technologist Burt
      Rutan have teamed to create the program, which will attempt the first
      non-governmental flight to leave the Earth's atmosphere.


      Contrail for private enterprise


      SpaceShipOne will rocket to 62 miles (100 kilometers) into sub-
      orbital space above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center, a
      commercial airport in the California desert. If successful, "it will
      signal that the space frontier is finally open to private
      enterprise," explained a Scaled Composites release.


      Allen, founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc, is financing the project.
      Along with Allen, Vulcan's technology research and development team --
      which takes the lead in developing high impact science and
      technology projects for Allen -- has been active in the project's
      development and management.


      Today's announcement follows SpaceShipOne's successful May 13 test
      flight. That flight had pilot Mike Melvill hitting the engine-start
      button to reach a height of 211,400 feet (approximately 40 miles).
      That's the highest altitude ever reached by a non-government
      aerospace program.


      Making spaceflight affordable


      Sub-orbital space flight refers to a mission that flies out of the
      atmosphere but does not reach the speeds needed to sustain continuous
      orbiting of the earth. The view from a sub-orbital flight is similar
      to being in orbit, but the cost and risks are far less.


      "Since Yuri Gagarin and Al Shepard's epoch flights in 1961, all space
      missions have been flown only under large, expensive Government
      efforts. By contrast, our program involves a few, dedicated
      individuals who are focused entirely on making spaceflight
      affordable," said Burt Rutan in a press statement today.


      "Without the entrepreneur approach, space access would continue to be
      out of reach for ordinary citizens. The SpaceShipOne flights will
      change all that and encourage others to usher in a new, low-cost era
      in space travel," Rutan added.


      Spectator viewing


      "Every time SpaceShipOne flies, we demonstrate that modest amounts of
      private funds can significantly increase the boundaries of commercial
      space technology," Allen also said in the statement.


      Unlike any previous manned space mission, the June flight will allow
      the public to view, up close, the takeoff and landing as well as the
      overhead rocket boost to space. This will be an historic and unique
      spectator opportunity.

      Information for the general public on attending the event is
      available at www.scaled.com.

      The launch is set for June 21, with plans calling for taxi out to the
      runway of SpaceShipOne's carrier plane, the White Knight, at 6:30
      a.m. local time.

      Behind-the-scenes backer

      Last December, Allen confirmed that he is the behind-the-scene
      sponsor of the SpaceShipOne project. Allen has funded the effort
      since he and Rutan joined forces in March of 2001.

      SpaceShipOne and its White Knight turbojet carrier/launch aircraft
      represent the first private non-government effort to demonstrate a
      low-cost piloted space effort. Since it was unveiled in April 2003,
      SpaceShipOne has undergone 14 airborne flights: capture flights
      hooked to the White Knight, freefall glides, and three powered high-
      altitude hops.

      The suborbital rocket plane is a leading contender among a worldwide
      cadre of groups vying for the Ansari X Prize.

      For anybody to claim the $10 million cash award, they must fly a
      privately financed and built three-person spaceship that rockets up
      to 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) altitude, returns safely to Earth, and
      then repeats that trip within a two week period.

      Private resources

      In a press statement last December, Allen said: "SpaceShipOne is a
      tangible example of continuing humankind's efforts to travel into
      space, effectively demonstrating that private resources can make a
      big difference in this field of discovery and invention."

      Allen co-founded Microsoft Corporation with Bill Gates (news - web
      sites) in 1975 and served as the company's executive vice president
      of research and new product development, the company's senior
      technology post, until 1983.

      Today, Allen owns and invests in a suite of companies, with a
      portfolio focus on digital communications, new media, biotechnology,
      and entertainment. His primary companies include Vulcan Inc. of
      Seattle, Washington.

      Vulcan grip on space

      Based on the success of the June space flight attempt, SpaceShipOne
      will later compete for the Ansari X Prize. The Ansari X Prize is
      modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize won by Charles Lindbergh in
      1927 for his historic flight from New York to Paris.

      The $10 million cash award will go to the first private organization
      to build and fly a ship that can carry three passengers 62 miles (100
      kilometers) into space, return safely to Earth and repeat the launch
      with the same ship within two weeks. Both flights must be completed
      by January 1st, 2005.

      Peter Diamandis, Chairman of the X Prize, said Allen and his team
      stepped up to sponsoring a private-sector space endeavor at a time
      when few others were willing to take the risk.

      "In my role as chairman of the X Prize, I had approached well over
      one hundred corporate chief executive officers regarding sponsorship.
      Few were able to grasp the importance of this new marketand those who
      were had great difficulty accepting the risks involved," Diamandis
      said.

      Vulcan's financial support has clearly allowed the Scaled Composites
      team to take a methodical, step by step approach, Diamandis
      said. "The flight test program has been expanding the envelope in an
      incremental process. I hope that Allen's leadership will allow other
      wealthy industrialists to follow in his footsteps to sponsor
      spaceship development like they currently do with sail boats and race
      cars," he said.
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