Scaled Composites Announces Private Sub-Orbital Space Program

by Earl Cook

Aeronautical design genius Burt Rutan is at it again and his company, Scaled Composites of Mojave, California announced on April 18, 2003 a new venture with a goal of private sub-orbital space travel. The program is built upon an airborne launcher, the White Knight, and the space ship named SpaceShipOne.



Just one of the practical strategies that Scaled has employed is the fact that the two craft share cockpit designs so that astronaut flight training can occur in the Mother ship. Another radical design that Rutan has employed is the shape of the spacecraft. On re-entry, it will mimic the high-drag shape of a badmitton shuttlecock (birdie) which will efficiently slow the spacecraft down as it glides for a 17 minute flight from its altitude of 100 km (62 miles).


For over two decades, Rutan has been a designer of aircraft that push the envelope both in aerodynamic design and in the composite materials that he uses to build the wild, but incredibly efficient and safe airplanes and spacecraft. Many people know the name of Rutan from the Voyager project in which Rutan's brother, Dick, and Andrea Yeager became the first to fly non-stop around the world without refueling. Scaled plans to pick up the pursuit of sub-orbital space flight that has been ignored for the past 40 years since the X-15 program was discontinued. The three passenger spacecraft will reach a speed of 2,500 mph and will coast up to the 62 mile atltitude after being launched from 50,000 ft. by the White Knight. The coast and fall are under weightless conditions for more than three minutes before the craft lands at the speed of a small aircraft.

All photos by Scaled Composites: Scaled Project Website: Scaled Tier One Project


I first became aware of Burt Rutan in 1978 while I was working on James Turrell's Roden Crater Project. Rutan had designed and built the blades on the wind-powered electrical generator that we were installing at the art project in the Arizona Painted Desert. Since that time, I have followed Rutan's career with great interest. I knew that if I ever made it to the realm of aircraft owner, that one of Rutan's innovative kit designs like the Vari Eze would probably be my first aircraft. Still working on that one, but I still get enjoyment reading of Rutan's amazing accomplishments.