First X-Prize spaceflight returns safely

 作者:瞿清尖     |      日期:2019-03-03 02:03:13
By Maggie McKee, Mojave SpaceShipOne safely soared towards space and back on Wednesday, and is reported unofficially to have reached its 100 kilometre (328,000) altitude target. If so, it leaves its team with just one more flight to go to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for pioneering commercial human spaceflight. The rocket, built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, apparently burned its souped-up engine for about 74 seconds to reach its peak at about 0812 PDT (1612 BST). That burn was shorter than the expected 90 seconds, and the craft unexpectedly began to roll at about one revolution per second after the engines started, according to initial reports. But the spinning was stopped and then, after reaching the highest point, pilot Mike Melvill was able to tilt the nose of his craft and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, although the craft rolled again when it descended to 7000 metres (23,000 feet). He then glided to a landing at an airport in the Mojave desert at about 0833 PDT (1633 BST). SpaceShipOne started its engine at an altitude of 14,150 metres (46,400 feet), where it parted company with its carrier jet White Knight. White Knight had taken off horizontally from an airport runway about two hours earlier. The take-off was accompanied by stirring music from loudspeakers and cheers from the thousands of spectators, some of whom huddled in sleeping bags against the cold desert air. The flight had been delayed for 25 minutes, due to concerns about high winds before sunrise. Onlookers were enthused by the dawn of space tourism before their eyes. “You just want to be a part of an event equivalent to the Wright Brothers’ first flight – it’s the start of a new era,” Mauricio Sanchez, an electrical engineer from Sacramento told New Scientist. If Wednesday’s flight is confirmed to have reached the required altitude, SpaceShipOne will have to make one more successful flight within 14 days to scoop the X Prize. That purse will go to the first privately-developed vehicle that is able to ferry three people to a height of 100 kilometres twice in two weeks. The second flight must also reuse 90% of the craft’s mass, not including fuel – in line with the goal of developing reusable launch vehicles with quick launch turnaround times. The second flight is planned for 4 October, but could be delayed by poor weather or the need to trouble-shoot the spinning problem reported during Wednesday’s flight. Problems also occurred during an earlier launch on 21 June, when Melvill – without the required weight equivalent to two passengers – flew the rocket to 100,124 metres (328,491 feet) to become the world’s first private astronaut. The spacecraft experienced a sudden loss of attitude control and a loud boom. Scaled Composite’s team is led by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan. The project has cost an estimated $25 million, which was provided by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. On Monday, British airline mogul Richard Branson announced he was licensing SpaceShipOne’s technology and that a new company, Virgin Galactic, could begin tourist flights to space in 2007 for about $190,000 per ticket. Ben Koning, software engineer and private pilot from Mountain View who watched Wednesday’s flight, said: “If I had the money, I would certainly go. I think I would go in this one – Rutan’s designs are very safe.” More on these topics: