Friday, May 14, 2004

Private rocket ship sets altitude record

A privately developed spacecraft rocketed a solo pilot to the edge of space on Thursday, as part of ongoing preparations for its first full space flight.

SpaceCraftOne, flown by 62-year-old Mike Melvill, reached altitude of 65,000 metres at about 1600 GMT. The altitude is a new record for a private vehicle. NASA awards astronaut status to anyone who reaches an altitude of 50 miles (80,500 metres).

SpaceCraftOne (SS1)was carried into the air attached to the belly of a larger aircraft called White Knight, also flown in this test by a solo pilot. SS1 detaches at about 15,000 metres before blasting towards space using its own rocket engine.

Putting SpaceCraftOne into space itself would scoop the $10 million X-Prize for Scaled Composites. The prize, aimed at spurring the development of private spacecraft, will be awarded to the first team to carry two people to 100km altitude twice in two weeks.

Twenty seven private enterprises from around the world have announced plans to compete for the X-Prize, but Scaled Composites is the hot favourite as it has the most fully developed spacecraft and flight program.

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