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Imaginary Person
Feb 9, 2003
In a Liminal Zone
Worried by SARS, George W, global warming, or just fed up?

This could be your answer. At last someone's building a spacecraft that looks like it might come from a Gerry Anderson series.

I want one.

Private human spaceflight project revealed

12:31 22 April 03

NewScientist.com news service

An exotic-looking spacecraft and mother ship has been revealed by a celebrated US aerospace pioneer, who says it is the first privately funded human space programme.

Burt Rutan, best known for his non-stop, round-the-world aircraft Voyager, hopes the hitherto secret project will prove the viability of private space craft and thereby encourage other designers "What we're trying to do is show that it can be done at extremely low cost," he said.

The Tier One programme was unveiled at the headquarters of Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, in California on Friday. It consists of two entirely new flight vehicles, rocket motors, a mobile ground station and a flight simulator. "It is a complete manned space programme, with all its support elements," says Rutan.

The mother ship is twin turbojet aircraft with a 25-metre wing span, called White Knight. The eight-metre long spacecraft, called SpaceShipOne (SS1), is designed to carry three people. It is slung under the belly of White Knight, which carries it up to 15,000 metres.

At that point, the SS1 separates and its rocket engine ignites, powering it into a steep climb at speeds of up to 3.5 times the speed of sound. SS1 will peak at an altitude of 100 kilometres. A long free fall back to Earth follows during which SS1's three astronauts will experience about 3.5 minutes of micro-gravity in a "shirt sleeves environment".

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