Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne executed its second powered flight on April 8, 2004 and reached a peak altitude of nearly 20 miles. Its first powered flight was on the December 17, 2003 anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kittyhawk.
Objectives: The second powered flight of SpaceShipOne. 40 seconds motor burn time. Handling qualities during boost, through transonic and supersonic. Reaction control system functionality in-flight and feather configuration stability during transonic re-entry. Evaluation of radar tracking capability.
Results: Launch conditions were 45,600 feet and 125knots. A planned immediate motor ignition was delayed about 2 minutes to evaluate a shock induced stall buffet resulting in an ignition altitude of only 38,300 feet. The 40 second rocket boost was smooth with good control. Pilot commented that the motor was surprisingly quiet; however the boost was heard by ground observers. Burnout occurred at 1.6M and apogee was over 105,000 feet. There was no noted flight control flutter or buzz during the climb. Feather recovery was nominal. Maximum feathered speed on entry was 0.9 Mach. The wing was de-feathered and locked by 40,000 feet. Handling quality assessments during descent were satisfactory and a smooth landing made to runway 30 at Mojave. All video and tracking systems performed well with spectacular footage obtained onboard, from chase and from ground stations.
Space is deemed to begin at 50 miles (the hieght at which a pilot gains his Astronaut wings) and the current (unofficial) record holder is the X15 flight of August 22, 1963 which reached 67 miles.
It appears suborbital flight will be approached over a period of months with a very cautious test campaign. At the current flight rate I would guess early fall. If they pick up the pace to that of last autumn, it is possible we could see an earlier suborbital attempt. The Fourth of July or the 35th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20th are good choices if there is a desire to maximize publicity.
Unless something goes drastically wrong, this is the year of the first manned private suborbital rocket flight.