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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
US private space rocket crashes
SpaceLoft XL launch, 25 September 2006.
The private rocket fell back to Earth a few minutes into the flight
A private US space rocket which blasted off from a site in New Mexico malfunctioned before it reached space, organisers have said.

SpaceLoft XL launched at 1414 local time (2014 GMT) from Spaceport America, a desert launch site.

But it veered off course at an altitude of about 12,200m (40,000ft) and crash-landed in the desert.

The rocket was due to carry about 50 items into space, including cremated remains and school science projects.

The reason for the failure of Monday's launch is unclear.

Launch co-ordinator Tracey Larson told AP news agency it was possible that the rocket and its payload could have survived the crash.

Opening up

SpaceLoft XL is built by UP Aerospace, one of several private firms vying to open up cheaper public access to space.

The rocket was originally set to blast off at 0730 local time (1330 GMT), but the launch was pushed back after a transponder failed to communicate with its eventual landing facility, the White Sands Missile Range, about 53km (33 miles) away.

The success of SpaceShipOne, the private rocket plane which breached the Earth's atmosphere in 2005, raised the stakes in efforts to open up public access to space.

In August, the US space agency Nasa awarded two firms $500m to develop a vehicle that could deliver supplies to the International Space Station after the space shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

UP Aerospace had nine flights booked over the next 12 months, lugging payloads of up to 50kg (110lbs) up to the edge of space on a solid-fuel rocket.

Chief executive Eric Knight has said clients would be able to buy payload space on rocket launches starting at a few hundred dollars for items weighing a few grams, rising to "many tens of thousands of dollars" for larger pieces of cargo.

Human spaceflight goes commercial
21 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
US draws up space tourism rules
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New Mexico lands space business
15 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
Virgin Galactic: The logical next step
27 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature

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