October 6, 2005

SpaceShipOne’s Creators Aim for Passenger Craft

WASHINGTON -- The first privately built craft to fly into space became a museum piece on Wednesday, as its creators aim for an eight-seat vehicle to carry passengers to "that beautiful black sky."

A year and a day after SpaceShipOne clinched the $10 million Ansari X Prize by flying to an altitude of 62 miles

twice within a 14-day period, the pioneer vessel was unveiled at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

It hangs between Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, which made the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927, and Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1, which flew above the speed of sound for the first time in 1947.

The three-seat rocket plane was donated to the national museum by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who paid for the project. Burt Rutan, who designed the plane, also attended the unveiling ceremony.

Putting SpaceShipOne on display clears the way for their next project, a plane that will carry paying passengers into space.

"We are indeed in development of a large commercial system," Rutan said at a breakfast before the ceremony. He declined to give a timetable for what he called a "commercial spaceliner" for fear of tipping off possible competitors.

Neither Allen nor Rutan flew on SpaceShipOne, a stumpy-winged white vehicle with blue stars decorating its fuselage. But both are likely to fly on SpaceShipTwo during its development phase, Allen said.


The spaceliner will have at least eight seats and require multiple routine test flights before commercial flights will be available to the public, Rutan said.

Allen said the price for flights aboard SpaceShipTwo and its successors will be a fraction of what it costs to take a right on a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, as U.S. entrepreneur Gregory Olsen is doing this week. Previous space tourists have paid a reported $20 million for this voyage.

Allen said he paid less than $25 million to develop and fly SpaceShipOne.

Virgin Galactic, established by Virgin Group, plans to own and operate privately built spaceships modeled on SpaceShipOne. On its Web site, www.virgingalactic.com, first flights are planned for 2008 at $200,000 a seat.

"I think history will look back and say the most important thing that Mr. Allen's vision and courage (did) here was to do the things that are needed so that we could actually start flying the public and let them see that beautiful black sky," Rutan said.

Rutan said he was eager to develop hardware that would allow future spaceliners to call at orbiting space hotels. Once the hotels are operating, Rutan said it would be a relatively simple matter to send tourists on an excursion around the moon.

"I really anticipate that we'll have competing resort hotels and we'll have side trips to go and visit the moon certainly in the next 40 years," Rutan said.