Spaceport's First Flight Falls Short

By Alicia A. Caldwell
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

UPHAM, N.M., Sept. 25 -- The first rocket launched from New Mexico's spaceport failed to reach suborbital space Monday, wobbling and dropping back to Earth barely a tenth of the way into its intended journey.

The unmanned, 20-foot SpaceLoft XL rocket, among the first to be launched from any commercial U.S. spaceport, was carrying experiments and other payloads for its planned journey 70 miles above Earth.

The rocket took off at 2:14 p.m. and was supposed to drop back to Earth about 13 minutes later at White Sands Missile Range, just north of the launch site. But three miles from the launch site, witnesses saw the rocket wobble, then go into a corkscrew motion before disappearing in the clear sky.

Something went wrong shortly after takeoff. Officials with UP Aerospace, the Connecticut-based company that funded the launch, said the rocket reached only about 40,000 feet.

It was not immediately clear where the craft landed or what condition it was in. Launch logistical coordinator Tracey Larson said it was possible that the rocket and its payload could have survived the crash.

Despite the crash, the launch still was considered a success because the rocket got airborne, Larson said. "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it," she said.

The rocket launched from a temporary pad at a site in Upham, in southern New Mexico, which also is the planned home of a state-built $225 million spaceport. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced plans last year to base his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, in New Mexico and to launch manned flights from the spaceport by the end of the decade.

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