Government Licenses First Private Rocket Email this Story Apr 7, 7:33 PM (ET) By LESLIE MILLER WASHINGTON (AP) - The government announced Wednesday that it has issued the first license for a manned suborbital rocket, a step toward opening space flight to private individuals for the first time. The Federal Aviation Administration gave a one-year license to Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif., headed by Burt Rutan. Rutan, who hopes to make affordable space travel a reality in a decade, is best known for designing the Voyager airplane that made the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world in 1986. "This is a big step," FAA spokesman Henry Price said. The Scaled Composites craft consists of a rocket plane, dubbed SpaceShipOne, and the White Knight, an exotic jet designed to carry it aloft for a high-altitude launch. SpaceShipOne, made of graphite and epoxy, has short wings and twin vertical tails. It reached 12.9 miles in a trial flight; the license will allow the spacecraft to reach the edge of space, about 60 miles up. The license is a prerequisite for the X Prize competition, an international space race that will give $10 million to the first company or person to launch a manned craft to 62.5 miles above the Earth, and then do it again within two weeks. The craft must be able to carry three people. The FAA is considering two other applications, Price said. One is an X Prize contestant. Twenty-seven contestants from seven countries have registered for the X Prize competition. The prize, announced in 1996, is sponsored by the privately funded X Prize Foundation in St. Louis. Supporters include Dennis Tito, the American who spent $20 million to fly in a Russian craft as the first space tourist; pilot Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh; former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn; and actor Tom Hanks. Rutan declined to comment. The company states on its Web site that its goal is to show that private space flight can be done, and at a low cost. "We look to the future, hopefully within 10 years, when ordinary people, for the cost of a luxury cruise, can experience a rocket flight into the black sky above the earth's atmosphere, enjoy a few minutes of weightless excitement, then feel the thunderous deceleration of the aerodynamic drag on entry," the statement says. Before launching the spacecraft in the X Prize competition, Scaled Composites must give the prize sponsors 90 days notice, Price said. The company can launch its rocket before that, he said, but it must be in an area that isn't risky. Scaled Composites is located in the Mojave Desert. FAA inspectors carefully examined the space vehicle to make sure it's safe, said Price. "There's no sure thing in anything when it comes to rocketry," he said. "We want to do what we can with the knowledge we have to make sure the launch is as safe as possible for the public." The company also had to demonstrate that it was adequately insured for a launch and that it met environmental standards, Price said. A suborbital flight reaches space but doesn't travel fast enough or high enough to complete an orbit.