Northrop Grumman buys SpaceShipOne company

Defence manufacturer Northrop Grumman Corp will increase its stake in Scaled Composites from 40 per cent to 100 per cent. Scaled Composites was the builder of SpaceShipOne, which with the backing of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 when it was piloted to an altitude just above the internationally recognised border of space twice in a two-week period and return safely.

The company has also designed a large number of record-breaking aircraft including WhiteKnight, the aircraft that launched SpaceShipOne on its epic space adventure.

Northrop Grumman spokesman Dan McClain confirmed that the deal had been concluded on 5 July. The company did not disclose the value of the deal, but said it expects to close in August, pending approval by the US Department of Justice.

Scaled Composites is now working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to design an orbital vehicle which can carry two pilots and six paying passengers into suborbital space for a few minutes of weightlessness. The new space ship has been temporarily dubbed SpaceShipTwo.

The company also is building a new carrier aircraft, presently called WhiteKnight2, which will carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of over 15 kilometres before releasing it to soar to suborbital space. The joint venture to build the new vehicles is called the Spaceship Company. How the acquisition will affect this partnership is unclear at present, with all parties declining to comment.