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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Private space ship 'back to form'
(Scaled Composites image)
The world watched SpaceShipOne make its historic June flight
SpaceShipOne, the world's first private space craft, is back on course for the Ansari X-Prize after solving technical hitches following June's historic trip.

The craft, built by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, had a major flight-control problem towards the top of its 100km record-breaking voyage above the Earth.

Pilot Mike Melvill had to use a back-up system to maintain control of the craft

But Rutan now says the problem was merely "a brief lockout" which only lasted three seconds.

'Not as serious'

At a press conference following the historic journey on 21 June, Rutan told the world's media that there would be no further flights until they had found out what had gone wrong.

That meant the team's attempt at the $10m (5.7m) X-Prize would be put on hold.

But Rutan told BBC News Online that after analysis, the problem turned out to be minor.

The X-Prize awards the first team that sends a three-person craft to an altitude over 100km, and then repeats the feat in the same craft within two weeks.

(Scaled Composites image)
The view from space that pilot Mike Melvill had
"We plan our next two flights to be the X-Prize attempts. Announcement of the dates will be made by the X-Prize Foundation," he said.

He added: "We have high confidence that we will win this year."

Rutan said the team had examined data which explained SpaceShipOne's sudden roll which happened shortly after its motor ignited.

The data showed the problem with the actuator, the part that controls the flaps of the craft.

"We did have a trim anomaly that got our attention and caused us to switch to a backup system," he said.

"However, the problem was merely a brief lockout due to a servo being forced to its stop. It actually began working normally within three seconds, at which time we were on backup."

The actuator failed to move one of the flaps in time because it had "run against a stop", which shifted the ship off-course by 35km (22 miles).

He also told US magazine Wired that violent air currents had set off the rolls, sending the craft 90 degrees to the left.

Pilot Mike Melvill had attempted to correct this which sent the craft rolling 90 degrees right.

After flying the craft in a simulator, Rutan said it had cost the team 30,000 ft (9km).

Three for two

Now the problems had been ironed out, Rutan said that SpaceShipOne would not just settle for two flights during its X-Prize attempt, but three.

Burt Rutan (l) and Mike Melvill (r) (Scaled Composites image)
Melvill also entered the history books as an astronaut
Rutan also said that passengers would not be part of the first X-Prize flight.

The rules state that the craft only needs to carry the ballast equivalent to two passengers, plus the pilot.

Any team which attempts the X-Prize must give 60 days' notice, which means the earliest SpaceShipOne would fly is the start of September.

Twenty-five other teams across the world are competing for the prize, including the British civilian space project Starchaser Industries.

That team plans to launch its own rocket in about 18 months.


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