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When it comes to global ‘firsts’ in flight, flight test, and aerospace, the Mojave Air and Space Port has been a consistent breaker of records and aerospace barriers. Here are a few groundbreaking — and sometimes record-breaking — innovations that were born at Mojave Air and Space Port.
SpaceShipOne – The First Non-Governmental Rocket Ship to Space.
The development and launch of the experimental SpaceShipOne was arguably the biggest ‘first’ in the history of Mojave Air and Space Port. Scaled Composites Model 316 SpaceShipOne completed the first privately-funded human spaceflight on June 21, 2004 and September 29, 2004, piloted by Mike Melvill, and then again on October 4, 2004, piloted by Brian Binnie. It won the $10-million Ansari X Prize after reaching 100 kilometers in altitude twice in a two-week period with the equivalent of three people on board, with no more than ten percent of the non-fuel weight of the spacecraft replaced between flights. The flight was timed partially to coincide with the 47th anniversary of the Soviet launch of Sputnik.
SpaceShipOne was developed by Scaled Composites (Burt Rutan’s aerospace company) with no government funding. Featuring a hybrid rocket motor, it also used a unique “shuttlecock” reentry system, whereupon the rear half of the wing and the twin tail booms folded upward along a hinge running the length of the wing, increasing drag while remaining stable. During its testing regime, SpaceShipOne set a number of important ‘firsts,’ including being the first privately-funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2 and Mach 3, the first privately-funded spacecraft to exceed 100km altitude, and the first privately-funded reusable spacecraft. SpaceShipOne now hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, above the Apollo 11 command module and alongside the Kitty Hawk. British billionaire Sir Richard Branson is expected to fund SpaceShipTwo through his company Virgin Galactic.
Launch of the Voyager
The Scaled Composites Model 76 Voyager was the first aircraft in history to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. The initial idea for Voyager was first scratched out on a napkin by Burt Rutan, Founder and CEO of Scaled Composites, as he lunched with his brother Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in 1981. Rutan and Yeager would later pilot the aircraft when it first took off from Edwards Air Force Base’s 15,000 foot (4,600 m) runway in the Mojave Desert on December 14, 1986. Their flight ended successfully nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds later, on December 23. They flew westerly 26,366 statute miles (42,432 km; the FAI accredited distance is 40,212 km) at an average altitude of 11,000 feet (3.4 km), breaking a previous record set by a United States Air Force crew piloting a Boeing B-52 that flew 12,532 miles (20,168 km) without refueling in 1962.
The XCOR EZ-Rocket
Mojave Air and Space Port was where the EZ-Rocket – a tiny build-it-yourself plane outfitted with rockets – first flew. Its two rocket engines, designed, built and tested by XCOR Aerospace, run on isopropyl alcohol, basically rubbing alcohol, and liquid oxygen, generating a total of 800 pounds of thrust. The EZ-Rocket is an operations demonstrator, designed to show that a rocket powered vehicle could reliably and economically be flown several times a day.
July 21, 2001, is the date of its first flight. At that time it had only one engine. On October 3rd, 2001 the EZ-Rocket flew on two engines, reaching about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) altitude above Mojave Airport before exhausting its propellants. Then test pilot Dick Rutan, who was the first to fly around the world nonstop in the Voyager, glided it back home. Later, on December 3rd, 2005, Dick Rutan flew the EZ-Rocket for a world distance record.
EZ-Rocket flew 26 times, four of those flight before air show crowds: July, 2002, at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and at the X-Prize Cup in October, 2005, in Las Cruces, NM. The EZ-Rocket is now retired.
America’s First Inland Spaceport
In 2004, Mojave Air and Space Port became the only private airport in the U.S. with a commercial spaceflight license after receiving official licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST). A launch site operator license was granted to the Mojave Airport on June 17.