A new commercial rocket reached space after launching from a Pacific atoll Tuesday but then probably re-entered the Earth's atmosphere after half an orbit because of a problem during the second-stage burn, an entrepreneur said.
Nonetheless, Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies, characterized the launch as "a pretty good test" during a post-flight teleconference.
"We successfully reached space and really retired almost all the risk associated with the rocket, so I feel very good about where things are," he said.
No anomalies were recorded until late in the second-stage burn, when a roll-control problem prematurely shut down the stage after the rocket reached an altitude of 186 miles, he said.
"We feel that's something pretty straightforward to address," he said from El Segundo, Calif., where the company known as SpaceX is based.
The launch was broadcast on the Internet from Omelek island in the Kwajawlein atoll. The view from a camera aboard the rocket showed the island quickly recede, then after a few minutes the Earth's sphere became apparent before the transmission was lost.
SpaceX had not successfully launched a Falcon 1, a 70-foot-long, two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. It is designed to carry up to 1,254 pounds into low orbit for $6.7 million.
A launch nearly a year ago failed when leaking fuel caught fire seconds into liftoff. Tuesday's mission, dubbed Demo-2, was designed primarily to gather flight data.
The launch shortly after 9 p.m. EDT followed two failed attempts, one on Monday and one just over an hour before the launch.
Tuesday's abort was caused by low pressure in the combustion chamber, launch commentator Gwynn Shotwell in Washington, D.C., said.
An attempt to launch on Monday was aborted when a split-second delay in communications with the vehicle was detected.
Musk was a co-founder of the PayPal Inc. electronic payment system now owned by eBay.
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