What was the trick to SpaceShip One

What problems needed to be solved by SpaceShip One’s development team in order reach the altitude that it did?


Well, the most important aspect was probably the feathering system, which allowed for a reentry without having to implement an expensive heat shield.

The craft didn’t use a ballistic sub orbital flight path did it? What was its highest velocity?


It was a ballistic arc following the rocket burn. Maximum speed was 1024m/s (Mach 3.1) at 200000ft (Numbers from Wikifor one particular flight so no guarantees of accuracy.)

The trick to Spaceship One was really just a lot of clever, incremental engineering improvements and unique flight characteristics. For example, it used a conventional aircraft ‘mothership’ to get it above most of the atmosphere and to give it a running start. That saved a whole lot of rocket fuel. Then, it was built small and light, so it wouldn’t need that big of an engine to get it into space. Its fuel system was simplified, and the feathering mechanism made it automatically stable on re-entry, eliminating the need for attitude thrusters and complex control systems.

All of this added up to a craft that could just barely crack the altitude needed to officially be in ‘space’. And it essentially was a ballistic, suborbital trajectory, so its velocity never got high enough to require exotic heat shielding.

Not to take anything away from Rutan’s achievement, but it’s a long, long way from there to being able to get a spacecraft into orbit.

You need heat shielding if you’re using atmospheric braking to bring yourself down from orbital speeds. SS1 never got anywhere near orbital speeds.

Id say it was cost. Getting to 100k on the cheap isnt easy.

I also remember reading on how they had to engineer their own unique hybrid rocket engine just for SS1. That level of design, testing, safety, etc had to be fairly difficult for a company that never dealt with rockets before.

The wikipedia article has a bit more information and there’s an excellent documentary called Black Sky about SS1 that was released a few years ago with a fair amount of details.

Right. Its a poor man’s X-15.