Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne made its first X-Prize attempt this morning. Early measurements indicate that the craft made it to space, but it did so rifled-bullet style, rolling rapidly. The engines were shut down 11 seconds early as a result.
A sudden roll due to a stuck actuator had also caused an early shutdown during the June flight, but test pilot Mike Melvill claimed that this was a different issue. SpaceFlightNow has the coverage:
Mike Melvill just told reporters gathered at the runway that it was pilot error that caused the unplanned roll during the rocket engine firing of today’s launch. He said SpaceShipOne performed properly and he was never worried during the flight, knowing he could damp out the roll motion. Once he knew the 62-mile target altitude would be reached, he commanded the engine to shut down.
Melvill quipped that the craft just needs to be refueled and it’ll be ready to go.
The roll may not have concerned Melvill, but I saw it on CNN and it scared the bejeesus out of me. Best of luck to those guys.