This privately built, piloted craft reached space and returned safely, expanding opportunities for commercial spaceflight.
Collection Item Summary:
Launched from its White Knight mothership, the rocket-powered SpaceShipOne and its pilot ascended just beyond the atmosphere, arced through space (but not into orbit), then glided safely back to Earth. The flight lasted 24 minutes, with 3 minutes of weightlessness. Its three record-setting flights were:
* 100 kilometers (62 miles) altitude*; Mike Melvill, pilot; June 21, 2004
* 102 kilometers (64 miles) altitude; Mike Melvill, pilot: September 29, 2004
* 112 kilometers (70 miles) altitude; Brian Binnie, pilot; October 4, 2004
With SpaceShipOne, private enterprise crossed the threshold into human spaceflight, previously the domain of government programs. The SpaceShipOne team aimed for a simple, robust, and reliable vehicle design that could make affordable space travel and tourism possible.
SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeated flights in a privately developed reusable spacecraft, the Collier Trophy for greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in 2004, and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement.
Collection Item Long Description:
In 2004 SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize as the first privately developed space vehicle capable of carrying three people into suborbital spaceflight (up to 100 kilometers/62 miles) and repeating the feat within two weeks. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen funded SpaceShipOne, and Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites designed and built it. With two successful flights piloted by Mike Melvill on September 29, 2004, and Brian Binnie on October 4, SpaceShipOne claimed the prize. The success of SpaceShipOne inspired the creation of Virgin Galactic, a company founded to add private suborbital tourist flights to the existing world of commercial spaceflight business. It also helped clear the way for NASA’s public-private partnerships to develop new spacecraft to carry crews and cargo.
Notice the rainbow striping on the wings and fuselage. This paint was a low-cost, reliable way to determine temperatures endured.
With jointed "feathered" wings, SpaceShipOne operated much like a badminton shuttlecock. Upon reaching top altitude, it tipped over for a smoother, more efficient reentry.
No Heat Shield
Notice the spacecraft has no heat shield or retro-rockets for re-entry. It doesn’t need them!
National Air and Space Museum
Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Gift of Paul G. Allen
- Body: Composite (graphite epoxy), metal, plastic
- Interior: Fabric, plastic, metals, hydraulic and pneumatic systems
- Motor: Composite (graphite epoxy), elastomeric compound, metal, ablative material
Overall: 8ft 10 5/16in. x 27ft 10 5/8in. x 26ft 10 13/16in., 2408lb. (270 x 850 x 820cm)
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National Air and Space Museum Collection
Country of Origin
United States of America
Explore Object Connections
SpaceShipOne and the Rutan Voyager were designed by Burt Rutan.
Charles Lindbergh received the <i>Orteig Prize</i> for his transatlantic flight. Orteig inspired the Ansari Prize, which motivated the SpaceShipOne team.
Like SpaceShipOne, the X-15 was air dropped and is rocket powered. The X-15 was dropped from under the wing of a B-52 mothership.
Test pilot Mike Melvill wore this helmet on June 21, 2004, during the first privately funded spaceflight of SpaceShipOne.
Like SpaceShipOne, the Bell X-1 was air dropped and is rocket powered. The Bell X-1 was dropped from the bomb bay of a B-29.