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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Amateur rocket fired into space
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

One of the GoFast rocket's previous attempts to blast into space
On previous attempts, like this one, the rocket failed to get into space
An amateur unmanned rocket has been launched into space from the Nevada desert - the first time this has been achieved by a privately-built vehicle.

The Civilian Space eXploration Team's 6.5m (21ft) GoFast rocket is understood to have exceeded an altitude of 100km.

"It just roared off the pad and flew into space," said rocketeer and CSXT avionics manager Eric Knight.

The GoFast vehicle and its payload sent back signals from space before falling down to Earth for recovery.

'Fantastic achievement'

The sending of an amateur rocket and payload into space marks a significant milestone in the exploration of space.

The GoFast rocket - named after one of the project's sponsors - lifted off from the Black Rock Desert on Monday witnessed by officials from the US Federal Aviation Administration.

A 14-second burn allowed the rocket to reach an altitude of more than 100km - the official boundary of space - in about three minutes. It reportedly spent several minutes in space before beginning its descent.

The rocket and the payload came down on separate parachutes.

Eric Knight said the team had detected the payload's telemetry beacon but had not yet reached it.

British rocketeers have praised the triumph.

"It is a fantastic achievement," Richard Osborne, from the Mars rocketry group, told BBC News Online. "I have been in Nevada with them during their previous attempts. It is a very impressive team."

The achievement comes at a time when it is widely expected that the first private astronaut will go into space in the next few weeks.

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