How SpaceShipOne Works

Inside SpaceShipOne

Inside SpaceShipOne is a small cockpit, 60 inches (152 cm) in diameter, that you enter through the nose of the ship. The cockpit is an air-tight pressure vessel. The pressurized cockpit creates a pressure differential between the cockpit and the near vacuum of sub-orbital space. This internal pressure pushing out on the structure of the craft allows the structure to endure the large forces acting on it during reentry.

The cockpit is outfitted with dual seals, and the whole structure is surrounded by a second space-worthy shell. Each of SpaceShipOne's many windows are special double-paned glass, and each pane alone can withstand the pressure and force of flight. This doubling up ensures that if either window were to crack, the passengers would still be safe.

The air inside the cockpit is made breathable by a three-part system. Breathable air is added at a constant rate by oxygen bottles. The exhaled carbon dioxide is removed from the cabin by an absorber system, and humidity is controlled by an additional absorber created to remove water vapor from the air. During the entire flight, the cockpit remains comfortable, cool and dry.

This whole system creates what Scaled calls a "shirt-sleeve environment." Passengers don't need to wear space suits inside SpaceShipOne thanks to the design of its cockpit.

To discuss SpaceShipOne's unique controls, we turn to Chief Engineer Matthew Gionta:

We developed our own avionics system and display unit for navigating straight up. I don't believe there are any spaceships that are hand-flown. This one is hand-flown by a pilot looking at a display like [an airplane] pilot would. That's kind of unique. The avionics are very critical, and it also needs to be very precise for the pilot to do what he wants to do, and do it well.

In the next section, we will discuss some of the challenges of creating SpaceShipOne.