Scaled Composites was established in 1982 and purchased by the Beech Aircraft Corporation in 1985, as a result of the collaboration on the Starship project. In 1988, Beech's parent company, Raytheon, sold Scaled back to Rutan, who then sold it to Wyman-Gordon. After Wyman-Gordon was acquired by Precision Castparts Corp., Rutan and ten investors re-acquired the company as Scaled Composites, LLC. Northrop Grumman, a major shareholder in the company with a 40% stake, said it would acquire the company outright on July 20, 2007. Both companies said Northrop Grumman's acquisition would not affect Scaled Composites' strategy or involve replacing Burt Rutan as senior manager. The acquisition by Northrop Grumman was completed on August 24, 2007. Rutan retired in April 2011.
The company revealed in April 2003 that it was working on a privately funded spacecraft, in an attempt to win the Ansari X PRIZE for the first private, manned spaceflight. This experimental rocket-powered spacecraft was given the name SpaceShipOne. On December 17, 2003, they announced SpaceShipOne's first supersonic flight, the first flight of its kind by a privately funded aircraft. SpaceShipOne successfully made this flight, reaching 68,000 feet (21,000 m) and 930 mph (Mach 1.2). The craft was brought aloft by the White Knight carrier aircraft. On the same day, Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, confirmed publicly the rumors that he was the angel investor behind the SpaceShipOne venture.
Before forming Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan designed several aircraft for amateur builders, including the famous VariEze, often considered one of general aviation's most innovative designs. He also designed the Beechcraft Starship, which was, however, a commercial failure. These aircraft were novel because of their canard configuration, winglets and pusher propellers.
Before SpaceShipOne, Rutan was best known for his Voyager aircraft, which his brother, Dick Rutan, and Jeana Yeager flew around the world without refueling in 1986. In 2005, the single-jet Global Flyer was flown by billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett on the first solo non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world, and later in the longest flight in history: 41,467.53 km (25,766.73 mi).
Although their role was not widely publicized, Rutan and John Roncz, who had provided aerodynamics support to a number of previous Rutan projects including Starship, helped design, and Scaled manufactured, the double slotted wing mast for the Stars & Stripes catamaran for Dennis Conner's entry in the 1988 America's Cup.
On July 26, 2007, an explosion occurred during testing of SpaceShipTwo's systems, killing three employees and injuring three more. In 2012 an international group of propulsion engineers obtained the Cal/OSHA accident investigation report, and have produced a comments and observations paper based on its contents.
^Belfiore, Michael (2012-01-05). "Stratolaunch: world’s biggest airplane to launch spaceships". Retrieved 2012-01-14. "The mothership is currently known only by its Scaled model number: M351 ...[with design] planned for completion by late summer of next year ... [and to] begin flight testing in late 2015 in Mojave, with rocket test launches from the airplane to begin at Cape Canaveral in late 2016."