KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A 30-pound package carrying four experiments and 52 envelopes rocketed 14,000 feet high and was recovered despite parachute failure Thursday in what was touted as the first private commercial spaceflight, officials said.
A 10-foot rocket burned for 4.4 seconds as it propelled the payload over a five-minute course, dropping it into the Atlantic Ocean two miles offshore.
Officials of E'Prime Aerospace Co. reported that the main parachute did not open but that a smaller pilot chute was sufficient to land the payload safely.
Jim Mizell, E'Prime operations director, said that a flight monitoring experiment to measure acceleration and temperatures failed to operate but that the other experiments went well. He reported slight water seepage into the payload section.
Ken Havekotte, a space stamp enthusiast, said some of the envelopes, bearing covers commemorating the flight, got damp, but they were dried and most were mailed to collectors.
E'Prime, of nearby Titusville, hopes the success will lead to investor interest in the company so it eventually can buy bigger rockets capable of orbiting commercial space payloads. Stockholders and potential investors were among the 200 people who watched the liftoff.
In trying to attract investors, E'Prime billed the flight as the "first truly commercial spaceflight." But by the company's own definition, space starts 75 miles up. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has launched several commercial payloads for paying customers over the years.
However, it was the first time a privately owned rocket had been launched from either Air Force or National Aeronautics and Space Administration facilities here.
Mizell, a former NASA engineer, said the experiments on board the rocket were from paying customers. He declined to say how much they had paid, except that it was not enough to make a profit. A high school teacher whose class developed one of the experiments said they paid $5.