March 24, 2006

New Rocket Fails on Its Maiden Launch

LOS ANGELES -- A partly reusable commercial rocket developed by a California entrepreneur failed during its maiden launch from a Pacific island Friday, a spokeswoman said.

Space Exploration Technology's Falcon 1, designed to carry payloads to orbit at low cost, lifted off from Kwajalein Atoll about 2:35 p.m. PST, but a Webcast provided by the company immediately lost its picture.

Spokeswoman Gwynn Shotwell told reporters on a conference call that there was about a minute of powered flight.

"We do know that the vehicle did not succeed after that," she said. "Clearly this is a setback but we're in this for the long haul."

The rocket carried an Air Force Academy satellite to study space plasma phenomena.

SpaceX, as the company is known, is an El Segundo, Calif.-based venture of Elon Musk, who co-founded the PayPal Inc. electronic payment system.

Falcon 1 is a 70-foot-long, two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. The first stage is designed to parachute into the ocean to be recovered and used again.