Rutan Begins Spacecraft Test Flights

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Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites crew appear to be making a good run in the race for the first civilian spacecraft and the much-hyped X PRIZE. According to the X PRIZE Web site, Rutan has conducted captured carry flights of his SpaceShipOne suborbiter on the launch aircraft, called White Knight One. Next up on the schedule are drop and glide tests followed by powered tests. Rutan may be the one to beat, but he has plenty of competition. A Romanian team has successfully tested its kerosene rocket engine but more tests are needed to make it safer and more economical. The Canadian contestant is the da Vinci Project's Wild Fire. A helium balloon will carry the spacecraft to 80,000 feet above the Saskatchewan prairie before the rocket is ignited for the rest of the trip. Another Canadian attempt will be made from a barge in Lake Huron, using a rocket based on the Second World War V-1. The South American entry is planning a conventional vertical launch with parachute recovery from Argentina.