Winner of the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for the first successful flight of a privately financed commercial spacecraft, SpaceShipOne was a prototype aircraft designed by Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites LLC to test the feasibility of carrying human passengers into suborbital space and back to earth.
Its successful flight into space occurred on June 21, 2004, piloted by Mike Melvill.
Carried aloft from a runway attached to a customized turbojet aircraft, called White Knight, SpaceShipOne was released at an altitude of 8.7 miles, where its rocket engine was ignited. About 80 seconds of thrust propelled SpaceShipOne to a maximum speed of 2,170 mph (Mach 3.09). After rocket burn out, the aircraft coasted upward on a ballistic arc to an altitude of nearly 70 miles, exiting the densest part of the earth’s atmosphere and making SpaceShipOne the first privately built vehicle to fly in space.
The coasting ballistic flight path produced a few minutes of zero-G, or “weightlessness”.
At the height of its trajectory, SpaceShipOne was configured for high drag mode, rotating its tail booms into an upright position to provide stability in its gliding descent, similar to a badminton “shuttlecock”.
After reentry into the densest part of earth’s atmosphere, SpaceShipOne landed on wheeled gear like a conventional aircraft.