Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne

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SpaceShipOne is small, having a three-person cabin and short but wide wings.

This article is about flights made by SpaceShipOne. For information on the design of SpaceShipOne, and on related projects and commercial ventures, see the separate article on Tier One.

The Scaled Composites Model 316 SpaceShipOne is an experimental air launched suborbital spaceplane, using a hybrid rocket motor. It has been developed by Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's aviation company, in their Tier One program, with no government funding. On June 21 2004 it made the first privately-funded human spaceflight, and on October 4 2004 it won the ten million dollar Ansari X Prize, by reaching 100 kilometers in altitude twice in a two week period with the equivalent of three people on board, with no more than ten percent of the non-fuel weight of the spacecraft replaced between flights.

Although impressive, the achievements of SpaceShipOne are not comparable to those of orbiting spacecraft like the Space Shuttle, but to those of the X-15. Accelerating a spacecraft to orbital speed requires over 30 times as much energy as lifting it to a height of 100 km.



SpaceShipOne is registered with the FAA as N328KF. 'N' is the mandated prefix for US-registered aircraft; '328KF' was chosen by Scaled Composits to stand for 328 thousand (k) feet (approximately 100 kilometers, the officially designated edge of space). The original choice of registry number, N100KM, was already taken. It is registered as a glider, reflecting the fact that most of its independent flight is unpowered.

All the SpaceShipOne flights have been based at the Mojave Airport Civilian Flight Test Center.

SpaceShipOne made its first flight, flight 01C, on May 20 2003. It was an unmanned captive carry flight test. Glide tests followed, starting with flight 03G on August 7 2003. The first powered flight, flight 11P, was made on December 17 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first ever powered flight by the Wright Brothers.

On April 1, 2004, Scaled Composites received the first license for sub-orbital piloted rocket flights to be issued by the US Department of Transportation. This license permits the company to conduct powered test flights for a period of one year. On June 17 2004 Mojave Airport reclassified itself (part-time) as the Mojave Spaceport.

Flight 15P on June 21 2004 was SpaceShipOne's first spaceflight, and the first privately-funded human spaceflight. X Prize flights followed, with flight 17P on October 4 2004 winning the prize.


The SpaceShipOne pilots are:

The pilots come from a variety of aerospace backgrounds. Melvill is a test pilot, Binnie was a Navy pilot, and Shane and Siebold are engineers at Scaled Composites. They have qualified to fly SpaceShipOne by training on the Tier One flight simulator and in White Knight and other Scaled Composites aircraft.


All SpaceShipOne flights begin with the  carrying SpaceShipOne to altitude, about 14 km, as demonstrated in this  test of the two-vehicle system.  The two vehicles have identical cockpits, as can be seen from the pattern of windows.
All SpaceShipOne flights begin with the White Knight carrying SpaceShipOne to altitude, about 14 km, as demonstrated in this captive carry test of the two-vehicle system. The two vehicles have identical cockpits, as can be seen from the pattern of windows.

Flights of SpaceShipOne are numbered, starting with flight 01 on May 20 2003. One or two letters are appended to the number to indicate the type of mission. An appended C indicates that the flight was a captive carry, G indicates an unpowered glide, and P indicates a powered flight. If the actual flight differs in category from the intended flight, two letters are appended: the first indicating the intended mission and the second the mission actually performed.

In the table below, the "top speed" reported is the Mach number at burn-out (the end of the rocket burn). This is not an absolute speed.

SpaceShipOne flights
Flight Date Top speed Altitude Duration Pilot
01C May 20 2003 1 h 48 min unmanned
02C July 29 2003 2 h 06 min Mike Melvill
03G August 7 2003 0 h 19 min Mike Melvill
04GC August 27 2003 1 h 06 min Mike Melvill
05G August 27 2003 10 min 30 s Mike Melvill
06G September 23 2003 12 min 15 s Mike Melvill
07G October 17 2003 17 min 49 s Mike Melvill
08G November 14 2003 19 min 55 s Peter Siebold
09G November 19 2003 12 min 25 s Mike Melvill
10G December 4 2003 13 min 14 s Brian Binnie
11P December 17 2003 Mach 1.2 20.7 km 18 min - 10 s Brian Binnie
12G March 11 2004 18 min - 30 s Peter Siebold
13P April 8 2004 Mach 1.6 32.0 km 16 min 27 s Peter Siebold
14P May 13 2004 Mach 2.5 64.3 km 20 min - 44 s Mike Melvill
15P June 21 2004 Mach 2.9 100.1 km 24 min 05 s Mike Melvill
16P September 29 2004 Mach 2.92 102.9 km 24 min 11 s Mike Melvill
17P October 4 2004 Mach 3.09 112.0 km 23 min 56 s Brian Binnie

Specifications (SpaceShipOne)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 5 m
  • Wingspan: 5 m
  • Height:
  • Core Diameter: 1.52 m
  • Wing area: 15 m²
  • Empty: 1,200 kg
  • Loaded: 3,600 kg
  • Maximum takeoff:
  • Powerplant: 1x N2O/HTPB SpaceDev Hybrid Solid rocket engine, 7,500 kgf (74 kN) thrust. Isp: 250 s (2.5 km/s) Burn time: 87 seconds


  • Maximum speed: Mach 3.09 (3,518 km/h)
  • Range: 65 km
  • Service ceiling: 112,000 m
  • Rate of climb: 25,000 m/min
  • Wing loading: 240 kg/m²
  • Thrust-to-Weight: 20 N/kg

**Most info from

Watching SpaceShipOne fly

Missing image
SpaceShipOne test pilot Mike Melvill after the flight on September 29, 2004.

SpaceShipOne's spaceflights have been watched by large crowds at Mojave Spaceport. Unfortunately, SpaceShipOne launches to the east of the spaceport early in the morning, which means that it is in the same part of the sky as the sun for viewers at the spaceport. This makes viewing more difficult, and caution is required when viewing through binoculars and telescopes. Nevertheless, direct viewing of the flight is entirely possible, and spectators can clearly see the takeoffs and landings of SpaceShipOne and its chase planes. Sonic booms are also part of the spectators' experience.

External links

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