Developed by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, SpaceShipOne is an experimental air-launched, rocket-powered aircraft that has suborbital flight capability (up to 100km altitude). It flew 17 times before retirement and is a major step towards commercial spaceflights.
Paul Allen funded the entire development cost, estimated to be about US $25 million.
SpaceShipOne and its carrier aircraft, the White Knight, was designed by Burt Rutan, a famous American aerospace engineer who also designed the Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world non stop.
SpaceShipOne uses a hybrid rocket motor (motor that uses both liquid and solid fuel), which is a lot safer than solid fuels and mechanically simpler than liquid-fueled rockets.
Its atmospheric reentry mechanism is quite innovative: the rear half of the wing and the twin tail blooms fold upward along a hinge running the length of the wing that increases drag but keeps the plane stable.
On October 4, SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE by reaching 100 km twice in two weeks and carrying and equivalent three people on board with no more than 10% of non-fuel weight replaced between the flights. The prize was US $10 million.
SpaceShipOne was the first privately funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2, then Mach 3, the first privately funded manned reusable spacecraft, and the first privately funded spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 100 km.
The White Knight...
The White Knight is a jet powered aircraft that after being used to ferry SpaceShipOne, was also used to both carry and drop test flights of the Boeing X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle.
It is a two-seater that looks just as weird as the spacecrafts that it carries.
A spacecraft under the development by the The Spaceship Company, a joint venture between Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Virgin Galactic plans to operate a fleet of five of these spacecraft by 2011.
Based on the design of SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo uses a hybrid rocket and the same reentry mechanism as its predecessor. It will be air launched by its mother ship, the White Knight Two.
The cabin will be about the size of a Gulfstream V Business Jet, according to BBC, which is about 6 feet high and 7 feet wide. The plane will carry 8 people, 2 pilots and 6 passengers.
SpaceShipTwo will have a longer range (about 160 - 320 km) and fly to a higher altitude (about 135 - 140 km), according to Burt Rutan.