Christie, Parker & Hale is pleased to congratulate one of its clients, Burt Rutan, who recently received special recognition for his ingenuity. Time magazine named Rutan's SpaceShipOne the invention of the year for 2004. The inventor and his invention are on the cover of the November 29, 2004 issue of Time, which carries a detailed escription of the invention, along with 35 other innovations reviewed by the magazine.
In October of 2004, SpaceShipOne captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize for being the first craft to travel to space twice within two weeks, while carrying the pilot and a load equivalent to two additional passengers.
SpaceShipOne is a rocket ship which is carried to an altitude of about 9 miles by a launch aircraft (the White Knight). The rocket ship is dropped, and its rocket motor ignited for about 3 minutes, accelerating the craft almost vertically to a speed of 2,200 m.p.h. The rocket motor, fueled by rubber and laughing gas (nitrous oxide), shuts down at an altitude of about 30 miles, and the craft continues to an altitude of more than 64 miles, where the daylight sky is black and the curvature of the earth is easily seen.
The craft experiences weightlessness for about 4 minutes, beginning with the shut down of the rocket motor, and gradually ending as the craft reenters the earth's tmosphere. To prepare for reentry, unique twin tail booms on the craft rotate upward 65 degrees to cause the craft to fall nose first, very much like a badminton bird.
SpaceShipOne descends to an altitude where the atmosphere is sufficiently dense to permit gliding, the twin tail booms are retracted to the normal horizontal position, the landing gear is lowered, and the craft lands as a glider.
A remarkable aspect of the invention is that Rutan's group achieved it all using only private funds, and with sufficient speed and efficiency to beat twenty-four other teams competing for the X Prize.
The invention also shows commercial promise, as Rutan's firm, Scaled Composites, has orders from Virgin Galactic for five larger versions of SpaceShipOne, with seats for five passengers and a pilot. Commercial flights could start as early as 2007.