Private rocket hits new heights before problems start

Los Angeles Times reports that Falcon 1, a rocket built by El Segundo-based SpaceX, became the first privately funded spacecraft to achieve orbital height, reaching an altitude of 190 miles Tuesday before a control problem sent the vehicle hurtling back to Earth.

The liquid oxygen-kerosene fueled rocket performed flawlessly for several minutes after its launch about 6:15 p.m. PDT from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific.

“Come on baby,” a ground controller said as the 70-foot rocket rose from its pad.

The first stage separated as planned, and the second stage ignited on cue. Then, an on-board camera recorded violent vibrations in the second-stage engine, followed by a loss of video.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said the rocket managed to complete a half-orbit before going out of control.

“This is the farthest any private liquid fuel rocket ever got in history,” Musk said later in a phone interview.  Even though the rocket failed to achieve the desired orbit, he said it had overcome 90% of the difficulties of reaching space.

“It wasn’t a perfect day,” Musk said. “But it was a good day.”


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