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2004: Remembering the X-Prize


Ten years ago the world’s first privately built spaceship was flown to sub-orbit high over California, clinching the $10 million Ansari X-Prize and marking the start of the new frontier of affordable space access.  The milestone will be celebrated at Mojave on Saturday with an event which can viewed via webcast.

Photos: Virgin Galactic

Aviation Week marked the winning flight of Scaled Composite’s rocket-powered SpaceShipOne with a special report penned by Michael A. Dornheim in its October 11, 2004 edition. Cleverly entitled ‘SpaceShipWon’, the package included a cover photo taken by Scaled test pilot Brian Binnie during the Oct. 4 flight. Captured as he reached an apogee of more than 367,400 ft (69.6 miles), Binnie’s photo clearly shows the deep black of outer space, the curvature of the Earth and the thin blue line of the atmosphere.  From his lofty perch Binnie enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness and reported he could see all the way along the west coast from San Francisco to Mexico’s Baja peninsula. The flight exceeded the ‘Von Karman’ line (a 100 km altitude limit widely used defined to define the boundary of space), and broke the unofficial X-15 altitude record of 354,200 ft. by 13,000 ft. It also made Binnie the 434th human to go into space.

The feature makes fascinating reading, not just because it provides great detail, but also because it hints at the difficulties and challenges that lay ahead for the brand new space hopeful Virgin Galactic. At the time of writing, the company said it wanted to carry the first fare-paying passengers into space by 2007. This turned out to be hugely over-optimistic and, following several development delays tied to improving the SpaceShipTwo and its hybrid rocket propulsion system, the venture now appears to be tracking to an early 2015 for this milestone. A contributing factor to the delay was the decision earlier this year to change to a new, more powerful hybrid rocket fuel that developers hope will give a smoother and higher ride to sub-orbit. SpaceShipOne used the same fuel as that originally envisaged for SpaceShipTwo and Mike’s story notes how Binnie’s flight had experienced ‘moderate chugging pulsations’ and vibrations. Check out the story for yourself:

► Read the report in the October 11, 2004 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology:


Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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