9 Dec 2010

Private rocket's maiden voyage a success

1:21 pm on 9 December 2010

A rocket launched by a private US company has successfully completed its first flight.

The Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon capsule, launched from Florida on Wednesday.

The capsule separated about 10 minutes after launch, reaching its 300km-high orbit shortly after, the BBC reports.

After completing several manoeuvres some 300km above Earth, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific.

Dragon and Falcon 9 are both products of California's SpaceX company and may soon be hauling cargo and possibly astronauts to the International Space Station.

The company has a a $US1.6bn contract with US space agency NASA to provide 12 spacecraft to carry cargo to the space station through to 2016.

The initiative is part of a much American policy to place the carriage of freight and crew transport to the ISS in the hands of the private sector, the BBC says.

This was the first of three test outings intended to prove SpaceX's systems worked as designed.

Dragon will not be allowed near the space station until it can be shown the capsule is safe.