The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
An unmanned, privately built rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday on a successful test flight before it begins cargo runs to the International Space Station for NASA. (Pics)
The launch marked a major milestone for rocket builder Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which plans to use its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules to launch people, as well as payloads, into orbit.
The 158-foot (48-meter) tall Falcon 9 booster, topped with a mock-up capsule, lifted off at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) from a refurbished launch pad just south of the Kennedy Space Center.
“Everything looked very clean,” said SpaceX’s Robyn Ringuette, who provided commentary during a telecast of the launch streamed over the Internet. “All in all, this has been a good day for SpaceX. It looks like we have made progress toward expanding the human presence in space.”
The two-stage rocket, which burns liquid oxygen and kerosene, reached an orbit 155 miles above Earth. The flight lasted 9 minutes and 38 seconds.
SpaceX is run by PayPal millionaire Elon Musk, who is also the chairman and chief executive of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors.
“The data I saw showed a bull’s-eye,” Musk wrote in an e-mail to Reuters after the successful test.
The launch was delayed by two technical glitches, one of which cut off an earlier launch attempt seconds before liftoff, and by a boat that strayed into the launch danger zone.
Falcon 9’s next flight is scheduled for later this year — a second demonstration run to test the rocket and the Dragon capsule. If that NASA-sponsored flight goes well, SpaceX wants to use its third Falcon 9 mission to fly and dock at the space station next year.
The company is one of two that has contracts with NASA to fly cargo to the space station.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants to turn over station crew transport to the private sector as well, a service now provided by Russia at a cost of about $50 million per person. NASA is retiring its space shuttles after two more missions to complete assembly of the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations.