A Niche in Time: One Chute

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight on March 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.

“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.

“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”

The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.

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Author of SpaceShipOne Book to Visit Mojave

how_make_spaceship_coverThe author of a new book about the Ansari X Prize and SpaceShipOne will be in Mojave this Saturday, Nov. 19, to give a talk and sign books.

Julian Guthrie will be at the Mariah Country Inn & Suites at 1385 Highway 58 from 2 to 4 p.m. The inn is located next to the main entrance to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Other participants in the event include: Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, two Scaled Composites who flew SpaceShipOne to space; Matt Stinemetze, the program’s lead engineer; and aerodynamicist Bob Hoey.

Guthrie’s book chronicles the history of the $10 million prize, the development of SpaceShipOne, and the prize-winning suborbital flights of the first privately-built crewed space vehicle.

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Future Imperfect: The Ansari XPrize, SpaceShipOne & Private Spaceflight

how_make_spaceship_coverHow to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
by Julian Guthrie
Penguin Press, 2016
Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN 978-1-59420-672-6
US $28/Canada $37

Reviewed by Douglas Messier

On Sept. 8, I arrived home at about half past noon to find a package sitting on my doorstep. It was a review copy of a new book by Julian Guthrie about the Ansari XPrize and SpaceShipOne titled, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight.

I laughed. The timing was perfect. Ken Brown and I had just spent five hours in the desert — most of them in the rising heat of a late summer day — waiting for WhiteKnightTwo to take off carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on its first captive carry test flight.

It was the first flight in nearly two years of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since Unity’s sister ship, VSS Enterprise, had broken up during a Halloween test flight, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury. Ken and I had been there on that day, too.

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Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.

That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.

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SpaceShipTwo’s PF-04: A High-Risk Flight

Mike Alsbury
Mike Alsbury

Part 1 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Mike Alsbury’s day began with a 3 a.m. wake up at his home in Tehachapi, Calif. He showered, dressed and ate a breakfast that likely consisted of an apple and a granola bar.

Alsbury rarely awoke at so early; but this Oct. 31 was a flight test day. That meant a lot of people were getting up early for the latest milestone in the Tier 1B program. At least that’s what they called it at Alsbury’s employer, Scaled Composites. The rest of the world knew it as WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo – the foundation of Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism program. Scaled built and tested the vehicles for the British billionaire’s spaceline, Virgin Galactic.

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Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

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2014 in Review: Mojave’s Difficult Year

Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)

“2014 will be a fun ride. We welcome you to get onboard, strap in and hold on!”

Stu Witt

CEO & General Manager
Mojave Air and Space Port
Jan. 9, 2014

Stu Witt had a lot of reasons to be optimistic as 2014 began. The Mojave spaceport was on a roll. On Jan. 10, Scaled Composites conducted the third powered flight of SpaceShipTwo in less than 9 months. XCOR was making steady progress on the Lynx and a new hydrogen engine for ULA, Stratolaunch was busy building the world’s largest aircraft, and other tenants such as Masten and Firestar had successes over the past year.

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Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Webcast

The Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary webcast from Saturday featuring Burt Rutan, Anousheh Ansari, Chuck Beames, Brian Binnie, Mike Melvill, Richard Branson and Peter Diamandis.

Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Celebration Webcast

Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)
Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

ANSARI XPRIZE 10th ANNIVERSARY WEBCAST
Saturday, October 4, 2014
4:00 to 5:30 p.m. EDT
(1:00 to 2:30 p.m. PDT)

Host: Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE Founder and CEO

Guests

Anousheh Ansari
Ansari X Prize benefactor

Chuck Beames
Executive Director, Stratolaunch

Brian Binnie
SpaceShipOne’s pilot for the prize winning flight

Mike Melvill
SpaceShipOne’s pilot for the first record-breaking flight

Burt Rutan
SpaceShipOne designer

Richard Branson
Founder, Virgin Group

Additional Details

10th Anniversary of First Ansari X Prize Flight

Ten years ago today, Mike Melvill made the first of two suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipOne required to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. It was a wild flight as the vehicle got into a rapid roll on its way to space.

Brian Binnie made the second suborbital flight on Oct. 4, 2004, to win the Ansari X Prize. The requirement was to make two flights into space within two weeks.

Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Shindig Set for Mojave

SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)
SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and Richard Branson are among those who will gather at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 4 to mark the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne winning the $10 million Anari X Prize, Parabolic Arc has learned.

X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis will preside over the invitation-only event, which is expected to draw hundreds of guests. The foundation sponsored the prize for the first privately-funded vehicle to fly into space twice in two weeks.

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Ten Years Later, the Future Just Ain’t What It Used to Be

WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. I'm on the right filming. To my left, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. (Credit: John Criswick)
WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. I’m on the right filming. To my left, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. (Credit: John Criswick)

Ten years ago, I was right here in Mojave — not far from where I sit writing now — watching Mike Melvill make history. He flew Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne to just over 100 km, becoming the first private astronaut of the Space Age.

After gliding to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Melvill stood triumphantly atop SpaceShipOne before a cheering crowd holding a sign that one of the spectators had made that read: “SpaceShipOne Government Zero.”

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Melvill to Speak in Mojave on 10th Anniversary of SpaceShipOne Flight

WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. I'm on the right filming. To my left, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. (Credit: John Criswick)
WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. I’m on the right filming. To my left, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. (Credit: John Criswick)

On June 21, 2004, Mike Melvill stood atop a vehicle in Mojave that he had just piloted into space holding up a sign that read, “SpaceShipOne GovernmentZero.”  Thousands cheered not only for Melvill having become the first private astronaut in history, but for the new era he had just helped to launch. Soon, people would be flying into space every week or so, and private entrepreneurs would put dinosaur space agencies like NASA out of business.

A decade later, the future just ain’t what it used to be. But, that’s not going to stop the folks in Mojave from celebrating the past.

Melvill will be speaking about his historic flight on the anniversary of it on Saturday, June 21, at the Mojave spaceport. The talk will take place at 11 a.m. in the meeting room located inside the airport administration building. Get there early; there’s limited seating.

Mojave Prepares for Plane Awesome Saturday

mojave_tower_sunset_smThis month’s Plane Crazy Saturday will feature Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Company officials accepting resumes, a large fly-in of experimental aircraft, and a talk by one of Mojave’s resident astronauts, Mike Melvill.

So, if you want to work for a space company, see some really interesting flying machines, or just to meet an astronaut, find your way to the Mojave Air and Space Port this Saturday, April 20. The airport’s monthly open house, run by the Mojave Transportation Museum, goes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Melvill will be speaking at the Mojave Air and Space Port board room at 11 a.m. He became the first private astronaut when he piloted SpaceShipOne on a suborbital flight on June 21, 2004. Melvill flew again in September of that year, completing the first of two spaceflights to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Eight Years Ago Today….

SpaceShipOne lands at the Mojave Air and Space Port after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne into space and history on this date in 2004. Melvill piloted the small space plane to an altitude of 100.124 km (62.2 miles) on a flight lasting 24 minutes and 5 seconds. Melvill was the first pilot to fly a privately-built aircraft into space. Thousands gathered at the Mojave Air and Space Port to watch this historic flight. After the flight, Melvill climbed aboard his craft and held up a sign that read, “SpaceShipOne, Government Zero.”

It was the fourth powered flight for the Scaled Composites vehicle, which was funded by billionaire Paul Allen. The space plane would fly two more times, in September and October 2004, to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipOne was then retired and shipped to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sir Richard Branson and his company, Virgin Galactic, subsequently licensed the technology and hired Scaled Composites to develop a pair of successor vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and its WhitKnightTwo carrier aircraft. Development and testing is ongoing in Mojave.

WhiteKnight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. I'm on the right filming. To my left, Eric Dahlstrom and Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom. (Credit: John Criswick)