| SpaceShipOne takes off at Mojave on Monday. (Reuters)
Mojave, California, Oct. 4 (Reuters): SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately funded manned spacecraft, today reached space for the second time in less than a week to win a $10 million prize designed to spur commercial space travel.
The stubby, three-seat rocket plane hurtled to a height of 368,000 feet travelling at more than three times the speed of sound to reach space on the last of two flights required to win the Ansari X Prize.
'We are proud to announce that SpaceShipOne has made two flights to 100 km and has won the Ansari X Prize,' Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize announced to reporters at Mojave airport.
Brian Binnie, the 51-year-old former Navy pilot who helmed SpaceShipOne's first powered flight, was at the controls for today's flight.
The carrier aircraft, White Knight, ferried SpaceShipOne to about 50,000 feet and then released it for its roughly 80-second rocket-fuelled stab through Earth's atmosphere.
Binnie had been expected to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness before SpaceShipOne raced back toward Earth in a long, spiral glide and landed safely back at Mojave airport.
Thousands had gathered and pressed against a rope line near the runway at the airport before dawn. Many watched through binoculars and telephoto lenses, erupting into applause when it was announced that SpaceShipOne cleared its target altitude.
The flight was being closely monitored by entrepreneurs hoping to profit from developing commercial space, and by federal aviation administration officials and lawmakers who must regulate the new industry.
The ship was built by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a joint project of aircraft designer Burt Rutan and financier Paul Allen, for $20 million to $30 million. It made its first successful X Prize flight on September 29.
On that flight, 63-year-old pilot Michael Melvill rode SpaceShipOne to a launch altitude of 48,000 feet attached to the belly of carrier plane White Knight.
The X Prize was founded in 1996 by Peter Diamandis in the hope that it would spur a commercial space travel industry.