The rocket plane SpaceShipOne has shot to an altitude of more than 100km for the second time inside a week to claim the $10m Ansari X-Prize.
White Knight carried the rocket plane to the launch altitude
The stubby vehicle raced straight up into the sky over the Mojave Desert in California, US, with test pilot Brian Binnie at the controls.
The plane did not roll like it had done on previous flights and set a new record for sub-orbital flight.
The X-Prize was initiated to galvanise private space travel.
It has been administered by the Missouri-based X-Prize Foundation. Its president Peter Diamandis hailed the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team behind SpaceShipOne.
"We are proud to announce that SpaceShipOne has made two flights to 100km and has won the Ansari X Prize," he said.
"What we finally have here, after 40 years of waiting, is the beginning of the personal spaceflight revolution."
Preliminary radar data showed SpaceShipOne reached a peak altitude of 112km (368,000ft or 69.6 miles), which is higher than the mark (107.9km/354,200ft) set by the experimental X-15 craft more than four decades ago.
Two steps up
Describing his record-breaking trip into space, Brian Binnie said: "It's a fantastic view; it's a fantastic feeling. There is a freedom there and a sense of wonder that - I tell you what - you all need to experience."
The development of SpaceShipOne was funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He is believed to have sunk more than $20m into the project.
"What's going to happen a few years down the road when space tourism is available for everyone is going to be amazing," he said. "I'm looking forward to that day and hopefully we'll all be in space before you know it."
The aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who conceived SpaceShipOne and whose company Scaled Composites built the vehicle, said he was "so proud of my team".
The flight followed the pattern of previous SpaceShipOne missions. The rocket plane was first carried to a launch altitude of 15km (50,000ft) by the White Knight aircraft.
It was then released and its engine ignited to take it up through the Earth's atmosphere. Unlike last Wednesday's first X-Prize mission, however, SpaceShipOne did not experience a roll near the top of its flight.
MONDAY'S HISTORIC FLIGHT
Take-off: 0647 local (1347GMT)
Ignition: 0748 local (1448GMT)
Landing 0814 local (1514 GMT)
Altitude: 112km (368,000ft)
The vehicle went higher than it has ever gone before and the flight will earn Brian Binnie his civilian astronaut wings just as previous flights did for pilot Mike Melvill.
Tickets to ride
The X-Prize competition has acted as a spur for space travel in the same way air travel moved on after Charles Lindbergh made his solo trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 to claim the $25,000 Orteig Prize.
Funding for the X-Prize has come from the Ansari family of Dallas, which made its wealth in the telecommunications industry.
More than two dozen teams around the world are involved in the competition. Many of these teams, realising that SpaceShipOne would in all probability take the X-Prize on Monday, are already setting their sights on orbital flight.
The flight will earn Binnie his astronaut wings
This would enable paying passengers to experience hours or even days in space rather than the minutes offered on a sub-orbital vehicle such as SpaceShipOne.
The next step for the X-Prize Foundation is a yearly multi-million-dollar X-Prize Cup which will be staged in New Mexico.
Starting from the summer of 2005, the 10-day cup event will be a mix of Champ Car Grand Prix Racing, the America's Cup and the Olympics for budding private space industries.
Burt Rutan has already announced that his company will build five rocket planes like SpaceShipOne for British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.
The founder of the Virgin Group of companies plans to offer flights into space for $205,000 (£115,000).