June 18, 2005 Three weeks of flight tests over the Mojave desert have demonstrated a breakthrough in how to safely launch future passenger-carrying rockets using a carrier aircraft. Transformational Space Corp. (t/Space) and Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites drop-tested dummy boosters from an aircraft using a technique that caused them to rotate towards vertical without requiring wings. This allows an aft-crossing trajectory in which the rocket crosses behind the aircraft, greatly enhancing safety. Previous air-launched rockets such as the X-15, Pegasus and SpaceShipOne crossed in front of the carrier aircraft using wings to turn themselves from horizontal flight to the vertical position needed to achieve orbit. In addition to greatly enhancing safety, eliminating the weight of wings increases the payload the rocket can take to orbit.
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