spaceship1 gets space-bourne
E DESERT, California (CNN) -- SpaceShipOne climbed into space for the second time in a week to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
X Prize officials said the privately funded craft reached 368,000 feet -- well into space -- Monday to win the $10 million prize.
The threshold of space is 328,000 feet.
Pilot Brian Binnie reported a shaky flight with "a little roll" but did not experience the 29 rolls Mike Melvill experienced last week.
Space ShipOne and its mother ship, the White Knight, featured a new paint job promoting Virgin Group, Richard Branson's firm, which recently announced a deal to license the SpaceShipOne technology for a fleet of commercial spacecraft
It could also be the most lucrative 3 1/2 minutes in space for the Mojave Aerospace Ventures Team.
Spacecraft designer Burt Rutan told a crowd gathered at his home in the Mojave Desert on Sunday that he was confident of the success of today's flight -- and winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize check.
After some unexpected acrobatics during the last flight, Rutan said Monday's would be a smooth flight, but he was prepared for stability issues.
"We believe we have solved these and we don't believe we'll see the rolls tomorrow," he said. "But if we do, we don't believe they're dangerous. ... After all, what we're doing is research."
Binnie, who piloted the first powered SpaceShipOne launch, was at the helm of the craft after it was released from the belly of the White Knight turbojet at about 50,000 feet.
Within seconds after igniting its rocket, it was traveling faster than a bullet out of a rifle.
The spacecraft is outfitted with a stronger engine and some aerodynamic modifications from its first record-breaking flight into space on June 21.
Melvill flew the craft's first mission to space and reached, just barely, the required 62-mile altitude, passing the internationally recognized boundary of space. Wind shear and a jammed control on the tail meant the craft veered about 20 miles off course, but it returned for a smooth landing. It was only SpaceShipOne's fourth flight using the rocket engine
On Wednesday, SpaceShipOne streaked even higher to 337, 569 feet (64 miles). However, during its ascent, the private spacecraft began a series of rolls that Melvill brought under control only after ending the rocket burn 11 seconds early.
Today's suborbital flight is the second within two weeks needed to win the X Prize for the desert workshop of pilots and engineers who have continually pushed the envelope.
SpaceShipOne's thrust was provided by two innocuous substances that, when mixed together, are explosive: nitrous oxide and rubber.
A fuel tank about six feet in diameter at the center of the craft holds liquid nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. A hollow tube leading from the tank to the engine nozzle is filled with solid rubber. The combustive combination produces thousands of pounds of thrust, although exact amount remains secret.
Most importantly, says aerospace engineer and spacecraft designer Rutan, it has opened the world -- and a private market -- to spaceflight.
"I strongly feel that, if we are successful, our program will mark the beginning of a renaissance for manned space flight," said Rutan in an X Prize statement.
Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the X Prize Foundation, said the $10 million award is intended to spur civilian spaceflight. The nonprofit X Prize Foundation is sponsoring the contest to promote the development of a low-cost, efficient craft for space tourism in the same way prize competitions stimulated commercial aviation in the early 20th century.
The prize is fully funded through the end of the year.
Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways, announced last Monday that he would invest $25 million in a new space venture, to be called Virgin Galactic. The project will license Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne technology for commercial suborbital flights starting at about $200,000.
Branson expects it could fly 3,000 people within five years.
"The development will also allow every country in the world to have their own astronauts rather than the privileged few," he said.