Last Update: Sunday, June 20, 2004. 2:01pm (AEST)
First private rocket ready to go
A dreamer and a billionaire have teamed up to send the world's first privately-owned rocket into suborbital space on Monday.
Burt Rutan an aerospace engineer and Paul Allen, Microsoft's co-founder, hope that SpaceShipOne, will fly 100 kilometres up to see where the immense blackness of space meets the blue line of the atmosphere.
In doing so they hope to take the first steps to breaking a government monopoly on space travel and introducing space for the masses.
The pilot of the rocket will only be named Sunday.
The journey will begin at about 6:30am (local time) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
A jet mothership known as The White Knight will be launched and initially carry the rocket underneath its belly for an hour, soaring up to 15,450 metres.
White Knight will then release SpaceShipOne, which weighs less than three tonnes.
The hybrid liquid and combustible solid-powered engine will then fire for about 80 seconds taking the rocket up to about 50 kilometres at a speed of more than 3,500 kilometres an hour.
SpaceShipOne will then glide up to about 103km, when it will lose the momentum from the engine and start to fall back to Earth.
During this time, the pilot will feel weightlessness as do astronauts in space. The zero gravity effect, lasting three minutes, will continue until SpaceShipOne returns to about 60km.
The pilot will gradually take control again and from 25 kilometres altitude, the craft will glide for about 17 minutes back to a landing at Edwards Air Base at between 10:30am and 11:30am.
The design of this particular prototype, decorated with painted blue stars, will make re-entry easier, because the aircraft will be able to fold its wings, reducing resistance and allowing the air to propel it back down like a badminton shuttle, Mr Rutan said, whose company Scaled Composites designed the spaceship.
The characteristics of this suborbital flight reduce the risks at takeoff and reentry back into earth, as illustrated in both the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia catastrophes.
In 1986 Mr Rutan engineered the US Voyager, the first aircraft to travel around the world without refuelling.
They say their main aim is to end the government's monopoly on space exploration and put it in the reach of all those who can pay the price.
Plans so far are to charge $US100,000 dollars a flight in the first years of business and then eventually lower the fare to $US10 with the arrival of other spaceships planned for 2010.
Can anyone remember Heinlien's "The Man who sold the Moon?