SpaceX Launches New Rocket From Pacific Atoll

Tuesday, March 20th 2007, 10:18 pm
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A new commercial rocket developed by a millionaire entrepreneur reached space after lifting off from a Pacific atoll Tuesday but then re-entered the Earth's atmosphere early.

The rocket probably re-entered the atmosphere after half an orbit because of a problem during the second-stage burn, said Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies. Nonetheless, he characterized it as ``a pretty good test'' during a post-flight teleconference.

``We successfully reached space and really retired almost all the risk associated with the rocket, so I feel very good about where things are,'' he said.

The launch was broadcast on the Internet from Omelek island in the Kwajawlein atoll. The view from a camera aboard the rocket showed the island quickly recede, then after a few minutes the Earth's sphere became apparent before the transmission was lost.

The El Segundo, Calif., company known as SpaceX had not successfully launched a Falcon 1, a 70-foot-long, two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. It is designed to carry up to 1,254 pounds into low orbit for $6.7 million.

A launch nearly a year ago failed when leaking fuel caught fire seconds into liftoff. Tuesday's mission, dubbed Demo-2, was designed primarily to gather flight data.

The launch shortly after 9 p.m. EDT followed two failed attempts, one on Monday and one just over an hour before the launch.

Tuesday's abort was caused by low pressure in the combustion chamber, launch commentator Gwynn Shotwell in Washington, D.C., said.

An attempt to launch on Monday was aborted when a split-second delay in communications with the vehicle was detected.

Musk was a co-founder of the PayPal Inc. electronic payment system now owned by eBay.