October 1, 2006

Rocket Found in Desert After Crashing

UPHAM, N.M. (AP) - A rocket that was the first launched from a commercial spaceport in New Mexico - and the first to crash - has been found in the desert, company officials said Saturday.

The 20-foot SpaceLoft XL rocket was found nearly a week after it wobbled and went off course seconds after takeoff from Spaceport America in Upham on Monday afternoon.

The unmanned rocket crashed Monday in the rugged southern New Mexico desert after reaching about 40,000 feet, well short of UP Aerospace's goal of sending the rocket into suborbital space, about 70 miles above Earth.

The company has not disclosed the exact site of the crash.

Eric Knight, the company's CEO, said radar data from the nearby White Sands Missile Range, the intended landing site, helped searchers find what was left of the rocket.

The cause of the crash remained a mystery, Knight said.

"Now that we have the rocket we can start doing our anomaly investigation," he said.

A crew from the Connecticut company had searched the desert by air and on foot for several days.

Knight said it was unclear Saturday how the rocket, whose condition he did not describe, would be removed from the desert. Recover will take a few days, he said.

Plans for a second launch Oct. 21 are still on, Knight said.

Monday's launch was the first at the state-funded Spaceport America, about 95 miles north of El Paso, Texas.

The site is also the proposed home of a $225 million spaceport where Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, has announced plans to base a space tourism company.