White Knight and SpaceShipOne sit on the Mojave tarmac Friday. In front, from left, are the project's pilots: Doug Shane, Mike Melvill, Peter
MOJAVE, Calif., April 18 ‚ÄĒ Aircraft designer Burt Rutan unveiled Friday a fully-built launch system that, if flights outside the atmosphere prove successful, would be the first private manned space program. Both the spacecraft, called SpaceShipOne, and its launch platform, a futuristic jet known as the White Knight, were developed and built in secret and have already begun tests at lower altitudes.
SpaceShipOne is launched in a process similar to the one used by NASA and Air Force test vehicles in the 1940s and 1950s: The spacecraft is carried by White Knight up to 50,000 feet and then it launches like an aircraft into a steep climb. It has manual stick-and-rudder controls for subsonic flight, as well as electric controls for supersonic flight and cold-gas thrusters for space flight. The thrusters are operational and were demonstrated Friday.
On reentry, the rear portion of the spacecraft ‚ÄĒ...