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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
'No experiments' for SpaceShipOne
By Irene Mona Klotz
in Mojave, California

Brian Binnie on top of SpaceShipOne
SpaceShipOne won the $10m X-Prize
Burt Rutan, the man who designed and masterminded the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne, says the craft will only be used for people, not experiments.

The team has turned down offers, including from the US government, to do scientific experiments on flights.

Rutan says SpaceShipOne's task will be to focus on test flights for the commercial passenger craft that will be operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Virgin has ordered five, five-passenger spaceliners over the next three years.

Scientific experiments are often done in zero or micro-gravity conditions to examine the impacts of weightlessness. Nasa's space shuttles used to carry out many of these kinds of experiments on their missions.

Museum space

Even before SpaceShipOne captured a $10m prize for successfully completing two suborbital spaceflights, offers to use the ship were pouring in.

Richard Branson and Burt Rutan
My gut tells me that the additional flying we may do on this airplane before it goes to the Air and Space Museum should be focused on developing the very best space tourism vehicle
Burt Rutan
Mojave Aerospace Ventures, the partnership owned by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen that oversees the SpaceShipOne programme, plans to tell the suitors, which include the US government, "No."

It is not that Rutan wants to turn the craft into a "hangar queen" - at least not yet.

Eventually, he wants SpaceShipOne displayed alongside another one of his airplanes, Voyager, which flew non-stop around the world without refuelling in 1986.

Voyager is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum in Washington, DC.

Before SpaceShipOne is retired, however, it has one very important mission left. It is to serve as the test flight vehicle for a new series of commercial passenger spaceliners that will be operated by Virgin Atlantic Airways.

"My gut tells me that the additional flying we may do on this airplane before it goes to the Air and Space Museum should be focused on developing the very best space tourism vehicle," Rutan said.

"I want my team to focus on us carrying this through, not just doing a research flight and then waiting for someone to take it to the next step," he said.

"My gut tells me that we are going to be working very hard on the next step."

Virgin chairman, Sir Richard Branson, plans to sell suborbital space rides for about $200,000 per person and has pledged to reinvest any profits from Virgin Galactic into developing other space tourism business.

Virgin Galactic travellers will fly even higher than the pilots who flew the missions to qualify for the $10m Ansari X-Prize. The X-Prize flights had to be at least 100km, or 62 miles.

Artist impression of a Virgin Galactic liner (Image: Virgin)
Virgin has ordered five spaceliners from Rutan
Rutan is targeting an altitude of 112km (69 miles), which would give passengers about seven minutes of weightlessness and more than twice as long to enjoy the view out the windows.

"Every one of those passengers will have a much, much bigger window - a spectacular view," Sir Richard said. "It'll be the most beautiful thing ever created by man."

Virgin's agreement with Rutan and Allen is not exclusive. Mojave Aerospace Ventures is considering offers from four or five other companies as well, Rutan said.

The spaceplanes will be based on SpaceShipOne technology, but would look very different, he said.

Once its flight life is over, SpaceShipOne will be joining other notable ships of exploration at the Air and Space museum.

Except for one piece. Rutan plans to pack up to 100g of SpaceShipOne to fly on the New Horizons' mission to Pluto - the first non-governmental launch into deep space.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch SpaceShipOne's prize-winning flight



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