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Aviation Dollar History

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  10. 2005
  11. 2004

Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce Aviation Dollars
2005 Aviation DollarSpaceshipOne

In 1996, a contest was announced, offering $10 million for the next major breakthrough in aerospace development. X-Prize rules required two successful flights beyond the 100-km "edge of space", in a vehicle carrying three people or their equivalent weight, within a two-week period. The same vehicle was to be used for both flights, with no more than 10 per cent of the non-propellant mass replaced between flights. Most significantly, however, the entire undertaking was to be completed without any form of government funding.

With this strict condition, the X-Prize winner was conceived, designed, built, tested and flown three times into space, all for less than the cost of a single launch of NASA's Space Shuttle. This revolutionary aircraft is the brainchild of maverick designer Burt Rutan (roo-TAN), the man who gave us the Voyager aircraft which, in 1986, flew non-stop around the world without refueling. One of his lesser-known designs, the Rutan Quickie, can be seen at our own North Atlantic Aviation Museum, where it is used primarily to teach children about the principles of flight.

2005 Coin Front
Scaled Composites Model 316 is essentially an air-launched, rocket-powered aircraft that flies into space and glides back to Earth for a conventional runway landing. It is carried to an altitude of about 46,000 feet and released by a custom-built "Mothership", Rutan's twin-turbofan White Knight. Once clear of the aircraft, the spaceplane fires its single rocket engine and banks into a nearly vertical climb.

The engine burns for just over a minute, burning out at about 150,000 feet. By then, the craft is travelling at over 2,000 miles per hour and continues to rise to more than 62 miles, the officially-designated "edge of space". After passing through its peak altitude, the spaceplane quickly descends, again on a steep trajectory. To cope with the heat of re-entry, the spacecraft has a unique feature: the trailing edge of its wings, and the twin tail sections attached to them, rotate nearly 90 degrees to the fuselage. As the atmosphere becomes thick enough to create drag and friction, the spacecraft falls into a stable, “carefree” orientation, likened to a badminton shuttlecock.

At an altitude of about 80,000 feet, the wings and tails return to the horizontal position and the spacecraft becomes a glider with a range of up to 40 miles, allowing it to return safely to the same runway from which it was launched.

2005 Coin Back
The craft is distinctive for its stubby fuselage, with over a dozen portholes in place of a conventional windscreen or canopy. This allows the cabin to be pressurized, permitting crews to work in a shirtsleeve environment rather than wearing bulky pressure suits. All windows are double-paned and the entire cockpit is surrounded by a second space-worthy shell. This full redundancy ensures that if either a window or any part of the shell were to crack, the passengers would still be safe. The rocket engine burns a solid fuel, comprised of rubber and laughing gas. This solid fuel is safer, more stable and less expensive than traditional liquid-fueled systems where the fuel and oxidizer must be stored separately, then precisely combined during flight.

Model 316 made its first powered test-flight on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the first-ever powered flight by the Wright Brothers. On June 17, 2004, California's Mojave (mo-HAH-vee) Airport reclassified itself as the Mojave Spaceport. Four days later, test pilot Mike Melvill became the world's first civilian astronaut, reaching a confirmed altitude of 328,491 feet.

Melvill was again at the controls on September 29, 2004, for the first official X-Prize qualifying flight. The ship reached an altitude of 337,500 feet in a flight that will be best remembered for its dramatic series of "unscripted" barrel rolls during the rocket burn. Melvill easily stabilized the craft for a textbook re-entry and picture-perfect landing.

Five days later, on October 4, Melvill flew the White Knight carry plane as fellow test pilot Brian Binnie pushed the spaceplane to X-Prize victory and a new record of 367,442 feet in what was described as "a milestone for humanity."

The reverse side of the 2005 coin is a sketch of the newly renovated Gander & Area Chamber of Commerce building.