Image: SpaceLoft XL launch
Robert Galbraith  /  Reuters
UP Aerospace's SpaceLoft XL rocket blasts off Monday from a launch pad in the New Mexico desert. The rocket suffered an anomaly and reached only 40,000 feet, mission managers said.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/25/2006 6:36:13 PM ET 2006-09-25T22:36:13

An unmanned rocket that took off from a new commercial launch site crashed in the New Mexico desert on Monday, failing in its mission to reach suborbital space, officials said.

The 20-foot (6-meter) SpaceLoft XL rocket — the first launch vehicle to lift off from New Mexico's Spaceport America — was carrying experiments, memorabilia and other payloads for its planned journey 70 miles (110 kilometers) above Earth.

The rocket roared off its launch pad at 2:14 p.m. MT (4:14 p.m. ET) and was due back about 13 minutes later at White Sands Missile Range, just north of the launch site. But something apparently went wrong, causing the rocket to spiral and sending it prematurely to the ground.

"Because of an unexpected aerodynamic effect, the vehicle was short of its effected range," a mission director said over Spaceport America's public address system. "It went to an altitude of 40,000 feet [12 kilometers]."

The rocket apparently fell within White Sands Missile Range, and mission managers were hopeful that the payload could be recovered.

Connecticut-based UP Aerospace had hoped Monday's launch of the SpaceLoft XL would usher in a new era of cheap public access to space. The rocket carried about 50 items — including a plastic bag of Cheerios and high-school science projects.

Chief executive Eric Knight said some of the company's clients paid just a few hundred dollars to fly mementos on the rocket, while others signed up to fly larger pieces of cargo for "many tens of thousands of dollars."

"This is the first time that a company has allowed direct access to space for the public," Knight told Reuters before the launch. "It's low-cost, it can be regularly scheduled, (and) it's the way it's going to be done by the commercial sector in the future."

UP Aerospace has nine flights booked over the next 12 months. The items on board range from the sentimental to serious-minded high school and university science experiments.

Image: Launch spectators
Tim Gaynor  /  Reuters
Spectators watch the launch of the SpaceLoft XL rocket from New Mexico's Spaceport America on Monday.

On Oct. 21, another UP Aerospace launch is scheduled to send up cremated remains from scores of dearly departed, including "Star Trek" actor James Doohan and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper. Launch logistics coordinator Tracey Larson said that mission would go forward despite Monday's crash.

Larson said the mere fact that the rocket went airborne was a victory of sorts.

"We will launch again in three weeks. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. We still feel it was a success," she said.

Monday's flight marked the first launch from Spaceport America, a $225 million project developed with support from the state of New Mexico. British tycoon Richard Branson said last year that he would use the site as the future base for his suborbital spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, which plans to blast tourists into space by the end of the decade.

Charles Wollmann, a spokesman for New Mexico's Economic Development Department, said data from the flight would be used for an environmental impact study, which is required for federal approval of full-fledged spaceport operations.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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