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Swedes launch scientific research rocket

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Swedish Space Corp. sounding rocket successfully carried eight scientific experiments into the edge of space on Monday.

The 50-foot Maxus 6 rocket blasted off from a launch pad in northern Sweden and soared to an altitude of 437 miles for about 14 minutes, the Swedish Space Corp. said.

The 12.4 ton, single-stage rocket briefly carried eight microgravity experiments funded by the European Space Agency to the edge of space.  The payload and the experiments then floated back to earth and were recovered by a helicopter.

"It was a perfect flight.  Everything worked as planned," SSC spokeswoman Johanna Bergstroem-Roos told The Associated press.

A sounding rocket is named for the nautical term "to sound," which means taking measurements.

The rockets, constructed by Swedish Space at its engineering center in Solna, just north of Stockholm, are launched just beyond the atmosphere into the edge of space.  The flights last just a few minutes before the payload drops to earth, slowed by a parachute.

The cost of Monday's launch was estimated at $11.6 million, Bergstroem-Roos said.

The experiments aboard the rocket involved material and fluid sciences, along with biology.  The microgravity environment gives researchers a unique opportunity to study the fundamental states of matter — solids, liquids and gas — and the forces that affect them.

In microgravity, researchers can isolate and control the forces, giving researchers access to test results that haven't been influenced by earth's gravity.  "By eliminating all but one ten-thousandth of the gravitational pull, valuable research can be carried out," Bergstroem-Roos explained.

Maxus, Europe's biggest sounding rocket project, is a joint venture between the SSC and the German company Astrium. 

The first Maxus rocket was launched from Sweden's Esrange launch pad in May 1991.