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PayPal founder's private rocket burns, then crashes

SpaceX maiden launch woes

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A private rocket designed to revolutionise space transport suffered an embarrassing setback over the weekend. The maiden flight of SpaceX's low-cost Falcon 1 ended in disaster, with the flight not making it past its first stage.

Take-off was at 2230GMT Friday from a launch pad on the Pacific Kwajalein Atoll. Just 25 seconds into the flight onboard cameras showed Falcon 1 spinning out of control shortly before the video feed was lost. SpaceX spokeswoman Gwynn Shotwell told reporters: "We do know that the vehicle did not succeed after that. Clearly this is a setback but we're in this for the long haul."

A fatal fire aboard the paraffin-fired booster is currently the prime suspect. It's thought fuel leaked and caught light around the top of the main engine.

Before Friday's launch attempt, SpaceX claimed it had launch contracts lined up worth nearly $200m by undercutting bigger government-backed space hauliers such as the European Space Agency. For a bargain £3.8m Falcon 1 was attempting to carry a 19.5kg satellite to a low-Earth orbit of 450km.

SpaceX chief and PayPal tycoon Elon Musk said: “I cannot predict exactly when the next flight will take place, as that depends on the findings of this investigation and ensuring that our next customer is comfortable that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure reliability.” ®

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