A joint venture between experimental aircraft designer Burt Rutan and investor/Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, SpaceShip One becomes the first privately owned vehicle to cross the 100-kilometer boundary into space. It is one of several vehicles vying for the Ansari X Prize, a $10,000,000 competition to launch the first privately funded (in other words, not government-funded) space vehicle, even though this is considered one of its test flights and not a qualifying flight for the X Prize. Launched from an airplane “mothership” and dropped off seconds before its own rocket engine takes it into suborbital space, SpaceShip One nearly reaches Mach 3, and is already the first private aircraft to reach Mach 2. Pilot Mike Melvill becomes the first recipient of the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial astronaut wings upon landing.
The first qualifying flight for the Ansari X Prize becomes a dangerous one for pilot Mike Melvill, as the experimental spacecraft SpaceShip One begins a rapid roll after its rocket engine ignites, sending the vehicle on a twisty trajectory into suborbital space. The vehicle reaches just under Mach 3, and still passes the altitude of 100 kilometers necessary to be considered a space flight (and to be considered a contender for the X Prize), but SpaceShip One must repeat the feat to win the $10,000,000 prize for launching the first privately funded spacecraft.
Privately-owned experimental space vehicle SpaceShip One makes its second qualifying flight into suborbital space, exceeding Mach 3 (the first privately owned vehicle to do so) and reaching an altitude of 112 kilometers. Brian Binnie pilots SpaceShip One for its third trip into space and earns the second set of FAA commercial astronaut wings as a result. A fourth trip is considered, but then cancelled to avoid any damage to the history-making vehicle. By this point, Virgin has already hired SpaceShip One designer Burt Rutan to build SpaceShip Two, a suborbtial passenger spacecraft which will take paying customers into space as part of the company’s “Virgin Galactic” service, based on the design of SpaceShip One. Rutan and investor (and Microsoft co-founder) Paul Allen also claim the $10,000,000 Ansari X Prize.
Space passenger line Virgin Galactic tests the Burt Rutan-designed suborbital SpaceShipTwo spacecraft VSS Enterprise at an altitude of over ten miles, reaching a speed of over Mach 1. Virgin’s official report is that the test flight was a complete success; no date is set for a suborbital test flight yet. Virgin is expected to build four more vehicles of the SpaceShipTwo class before moving on to a more advanced design, SpaceShipThree.