March 21, 2007 11:03 AM PDT

SpaceX's Falcon 1 enters space--for a bit

Commercial rocket Falcon 1 briefly entered space Tuesday, before a mishap cut its test launch short of orbiting Earth.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a 5-year-old company created by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, said Falcon 1 started to spin during the second stage of its trajectory through space. As a result, the company suspects it will find that no fuel was able to reach the engine, said Gwynne Shotwell, vice president of business development for SpaceX.

Images: SpaceX joins the space race

Falcon 1 reached an altitude of approximately 200 miles into space, but failed to achieve its goal of orbiting the Earth.

That marks the second time within the past 12 months that SpaceX fell short of orbiting Earth post launch. The company also aborted two attempts at launching during this most recent effort--one within an hour of blasting into space and another on Monday.

SpaceX called off the launch an hour before Falcon 1 was scheduled to go because the fuel temperature was too low and would ultimately affect the engine performance, Shotwell said. That problem was remedied and the launch resumed at 6:10 p.m. PDT on Tuesday.

The company aborted an earlier attempt on Monday when concerns arose that the wireless-like communications system was not working after it was switched from the ground communications system, Shotwell said.

Despite two failed launches and several aborted attempts, the company considers its most recent launch successful on several fronts.

"This is a very tough business. The fact that we got to space on the second attempt is very good," said Shotwell, noting it has taken other rocket manufacturers multiple attempts. "We're not claiming this was a complete success, but it went very, very well."

SpaceX's founder shared a similar view.

"We retired almost all of the significant development risk items, in particular...stage separation, second stage ignition, fairing separation," Musk said in his blog on the company's Web site.

SpaceX expects to remain on track for future Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launches. The company plans to move forward with a Department of Defense satellite launch for late summer and a Malaysian satellite launch in the fall.

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