Press Release

Historic Space Launch Attempt for SpaceShipOne Scheduled for June 21

By SpaceRef Editor
June 2, 2004
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Historic Space Launch Attempt for SpaceShipOne Scheduled for June 21

Paul G. Allen and Burt Rutan Announce Plans for First Non-Government, Privately Funded Manned Space Flight

Mojave, CA: A privately-developed rocket plane will launch into history on June 21 on a mission to become the world’s first commercial manned space vehicle. Investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and aviation legend Burt Rutan have teamed to create the program, which will attempt the first non-governmental flight to leave the earth’s atmosphere.

Paul G. Allen and aviation legend Burt Rutan have teamed to create a manned space program, which will attempt the first non-governmental flight to leave the earth’s atmosphere. SpaceShipOne will rocket to 100 kilometers (62 miles) into sub-orbital space above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center, a commercial airport in the California desert. If successful, it will demonstrate that the space frontier is finally open to private enterprise. This event could be the breakthrough that will enable space access for future generations.

Allen, founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc, is financing the project. Along with Allen, Vulcan’s technology research and development team — which takes the lead in developing high impact science and technology projects for Allen — has been active in the project’s development and management.

“This flight is one of the most exciting and challenging activities
taking place in the fields of aviation and aerospace today,” said Paul
G. Allen, sole sponsor in the SpaceShipOne program. “Every time
SpaceShipOne flies we demonstrate that relatively modest amounts of
private funding can significantly increase the boundaries of commercial
space technology. Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites have
accomplished amazing things by conducting the first mission of this kind
without any government backing.”

Today’s announcement came after SpaceShipOne completed a May 13th, 2004 test flight in which pilot Mike Melvill reached a height of 211,400 feet (approximately 40 miles), the highest altitude ever reached by a non-government aerospace program.

Sub-orbital space flight refers to a mission that flies out of the atmosphere but does not reach the speeds needed to sustain continuous orbiting of the earth. The view from a sub-orbital flight is similar to being in orbit, but the cost and risks are far less.

The pilot (to be announced at a later date) of the up-coming June sub-orbital space flight will become the first person to earn astronaut wings in a non-government sponsored vehicle, and the first private civilian to fly a spaceship out of the atmosphere.

“Since Yuri Gagarin and Al Shepard’s epic flights in 1961, all space missions have been flown only under large, expensive Government efforts. By contrast, our program involves a few, dedicated individuals who are focused entirely on making spaceflight affordable,’ said Burt Rutan. “Without the entrepreneur approach, space access would continue to be out of reach for ordinary citizens. The SpaceShipOne flights will change all that and encourage others to usher in a new, low-cost era in space travel.’

SpaceShipOne was designed by Rutan and his research team at the California-based aerospace company, Scaled Composites. Rutan made aviation news in 1986 by developing the Voyager, the only aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without refueling.

“To succeed takes more than the work of designers and builders’, Rutan said, “The vision, the will, the commitment and the courage to direct the program is the most difficult hurdle. We are very fortunate to have the financial support and the confidence of a visionary like Paul Allen to make this effort possible.’

To reach space, a carrier aircraft, the White Knight, lifts SpaceShipOne from the runway. An hour later, after climbing to approximately 50,000 feet altitude just east of Mojave, the White Knight releases the spaceship into a glide. The spaceship pilot then fires his rocket motor for about 80 seconds, reaching Mach 3 in a vertical climb. During the pull-up and climb, the pilot encounters G-forces three to four times the gravity of the earth.

SpaceShipOne then coasts up to its goal height of 100 km (62 miles) before falling back to earth. The pilot experiences a weightless environment for more than three minutes and, like orbital space travelers, sees the black sky and the thin blue atmospheric line on the horizon. The pilot (actually a new astronaut!) then configures the craft’s wing and tail into a high-drag configuration. This provides a “care-free’ atmospheric entry by slowing the spaceship in the upper atmosphere and automatically aligning it along the flight path. Upon re-entry, the pilot reconfigures the ship back to a normal glider, and then spends 15 to 20 minutes gliding back to earth, touching down like an airplane on the same runway from which he took off. The June flight will be flown solo, but SpaceShipOne is equipped with three seats and is designed for missions that include pilot and two passengers.

Unlike any previous manned space mission, the June flight will allow the public to view, up close, the takeoff and landing as well as the overhead rocket boost to space. This will be an historic and unique spectator opportunity. Information for the general public on attending the event is available at

Based on the success of the June space flight attempt, SpaceShipOne will later compete for the Ansari X Prize, an international competition to create a reusable aircraft that can launch three passengers into sub-orbital space, return them safely home, then repeat the launch within two weeks with the same vehicle.

The Discovery Channel and Vulcan Productions are producing RUTAN’S RACE FOR SPACE (wt), a world premiere television special that documents the entire process of the historic effort to create the first privately-funded spacecraft. From design to flight testing to the moments of the actual launch and return, the special takes viewers behind-the-scenes for the complete, inside story of this historic aerospace milestone. RUTAN’S RACE FOR SPACE will be broadcast later this year.


Q: What date and time will the launch take place?

A: The launch is planned for June 21, 2004. We plan for very early in the morning. Currently we are planning to taxi out for takeoff at 6:30 a.m.

Q: Why so early?

A: Mojave is a windy place. It is less likely to be windy very early in the morning. That makes for better flying and launch conditions, and the low sun angle allows better spectator viewing of the high-altitude boost to space.

Q: Is there any chance that the flight would launch later in the day or be delayed a day or more?

A: Yes. As with any flight test activity, weather is a very important factor. High winds or very cloudy conditions could change our flight plans. In addition, flights can be delayed for technical reasons.

Q: What can we expect to see?

A: White Knight with SpaceShipOne slung underneath will taxi by right in front of the public viewing area. A few minutes later, you will see it take off. For a few minutes early in the flight, you can see them circling overhead as they climb. It takes the pair of mated vehicles roughly one hour to reach 47,000 feet a few miles to the northeast. That is where White Knight releases SpaceShipOne. They are generally easy to follow visually since the White Knight and its chase planes usually make contrails. SpaceShipOne glides for a few seconds, then the pilot lights the rocket and you’ll be able to see flames and a rocket exhaust trail for about 80 seconds. There will be a public address system in the viewing areas which will carry the radio transmissions between Mission Control, the White Knight pilot and the SpaceShipOne pilot, so you’ll know what is happening.

SpaceShipOne’s flight lasts roughly 25 minutes. It will rocket to space, spend about three minutes weightless outside the atmosphere, then enter the earth’s atmosphere in a high-drag configuration. It will glide back toward Mojave, circle overhead, then land directly in front of the public viewing area on the same runway on which it took off about 1 hour and 25 minutes earlier. SpaceShipOne’s rocket is very loud but it can only be faintly heard on the ground in the best of conditions. If its reentry direction is aimed away from the airport, two soft sonic booms will be heard. After landing, SpaceShipOne will be towed by a truck to the media area for a brief photo opportunity, then moved to the adjacent public viewing area, then towed back to Scaled’s facility. Thus, the media and the public will get to take their own close-up photos. White Knight takes longer to return. It usually lands a few minutes after SpaceShipOne.

Other aircraft which you may see during the flight include:

  • Robert Scherer’s Starship (a Burt Rutan design). This plane flies high-altitude chase and carries our company photographer. This is a twin-engine turboprop airplane painted white with a canard near the nose.
  • An Extra that belongs to Chuck Coleman, one of Scaled’s Design Engineers. This aircraft has been used to train our pilots/astronauts. It is a single engine aerobatic plane painted red and black. It flies very close chase toward the end of the flight to assist the SpaceShipOne pilot in landing.
  • The Alpha-Jet, a military-looking fighter aircraft painted olive green. The person in the back seat of this aircraft will have a video camera and will photograph the launch from a better position than we have on the ground. Some of this video footage will be used in preparing a documentary for the Discovery Channel.

Q: What services are available in Mojave?

A: Mojave is a small town with limited resources. Mojave’s motels are listed below:

  • Bel Air Motel – 661-824-2350
  • Best Western Desert Winds – 661-824-3601
  • City Center Motel – 661-824-4268
  • Economy Motel – 661-824-2347
  • Econo Lodge – 661-824-2463
  • Friendship Inn – 661-824-4523
  • Mariah Country Inn and Suites – 661-824-4980
  • Mojave Travel Inn – 661-824-2441
  • Motel 6 – 661-824-4571
  • Twenty Mule Motel – 661-824-2214
  • White’s Motel – 661-824-2421
  • Mojave also has several service stations, several restaurants and several fast food establishments. There is a Stater Brothers grocery store.

Q: Where else can we get travel services nearby?
A: There are a number of towns near Mojave that have services for visitors. They include:

  • Rosamond (15 miles south of Mojave on Highway 14)
  • California City (15 miles east of Mojave on Highway 58)
  • Tehachapi (20 miles west of Mojave on Highway 58)
  • Lancaster (30 miles south of Mojave on Highway 14)
  • Palmdale (45 miles south of Mojave on Highway 14)
  • Bakersfield (55 miles west of Mojave on Highway 58)

Q: Will there be parking available on the Mojave Airport?

A: Yes. The parking is adjacent to the public viewing area. A registration fee of $10/car will be charged.

Q: Can we bring our motor home or camper and spend the night?

A: Yes. The parking is near the public viewing area. There are no hookups. An overnight fee of $40/night will be charged. Camping will be allowed for up to two nights prior to the planned flight and one night after the flight. All 256 slots available are 24′ x 40′ pull-through spaces.

Q: How do we get to the public viewing area, the camping area and the parking area?

A: Enter on the airport’s main entrance, via Highway 58 just east of the town of Mojave. There will be signs and people directing you where to park. See the map at the end of this document.

Q: How do we pay these fees?

A: Only cash will be accepted.

Q: Once we pull our vehicle onto the airport and pay our fee, will we be permitted to leave and return?

A: Yes, you’ll be given a registration card which will permit you to re-enter.

Q: What time will the public be allowed in for parking the morning before the flight?

A: 3:00 a.m.

Q: Are there additional entrances for the airport?

A: Yes, there is one at Belshaw from Highway 14. However, this entrance will be reserved for media with special passes and folks who work at other businesses on the Mojave Airport. All will have special passes. You will be turned away if you try to use this entrance.

Q: Can we fly a commercial flight to Mojave?

A: No, Mojave has no commercial airline service.

Q: Can we fly our own airplanes in?

A: Due to expected congestion, the airport will be closed to transient aircraft starting several days before the event.

Q: Can we rent a car in Mojave?

A: Yes, there is an Enterprise Car Rental Agency on the Mojave Airport.

Q: Will there be food and drink vendors near the public viewing area?

A: Yes, along with portable restroom facilities. There will also be event mementos for sale by local charities (T-shirts, hats, mugs and logo water bottles).

Q: What should I bring to the launch?

A: The rocket flight to space is visible with the naked eye, but binoculars give an even better view. Sunglasses and caps or hats with a large brim will provide your eyes with some relief. Early mornings in the desert can be chilly, so wear some layers you can peel off as the day warms up. You might want to bring along a folding chair, too.

Q: Do I need earplugs?

A: The engines on White Knight are very noisy, so if you are standing near where White Knight taxis or takes off, you may wish to have earplugs or cover your ears. SpaceShipOne makes very little noise other than soft sonic booms when it re-enters the atmosphere overhead.

Q: Are cameras permitted?

A: Yes.

Q: Who is invited?

A: Everyone, especially children. They will want to tell their children that they were there to see the event that triggered the industry of private space tourism.

Q: Are pets allowed?

A: Only in accordance with strict leash laws.

Q: Will I be able to get autographs before or after the flight?

A: No, not likely. The crews must return to Scaled for a technical debrief after the flight.

Q: Will we get a chance to see the new astronaut and hear what he has to say about the flight?

A: SpaceShipOne and its pilot will visit the public viewing area after the flight. You’ll be able to get photographs and/or video then. In addition, many media folks will be at the event. You’ll be able to see their interviews in both print news and on television later that day and the next.

Q: May I come to Scaled before or after the flight and meet Mr. Rutan and the pilots?

A: No. This program involves a very busy flight test activity, and these types of visits have not been possible. All personnel involved in the flight have duties both before and after the flight that must be attended to.

Q: May I get a close up photo of SpaceShipOne before or after the flight?

A: Yes. The vehicle will be towed past the public viewing area for you to snap your photographs. Then it will be returned to Scaled’s hangar for the post-flight activities of its crew. You can also look for great new photos on our website that are posted after each flight. (

Q: Will Scaled be conducting tours?

A: No. Scaled Composites is a research and development facility with other proprietary projects. Tours are not permitted.

Q: How do I get more information?

A: Check back here for updates and check Click on “special events’ to check for airport maps and additional information about the event.

SpaceRef staff editor.