A Brazilian suborbital rocket successfully launched a European microgravity experiment Thursday in a debut flight staged from northern Sweden.
A Texus-EML sounding rocket equipped with Brazil's VSB-30 engine launched from Sweden's Esrange facility near Kiruna at 4:06 a.m. EST (0906 GMT) on a mission to provide a few minutes of microgravity for a joint experiment developed by the European and German space agencies, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said.
The space shot gave scientists about six minutes and 37 seconds of weightlessness to test the properties of molten metals for the ESA's IMPRESS science program.
"This launch is a major step forward in zero-g experimentation for the IMPRESS project," said ESA project manager David Jarvis in a statement.
The findings will help the development of new metals for gas turbines, hydrogen fuel cells and jet engines for aircraft, researchers added. IMPRESS is short for Intermetallic Materials Processing in Relation to Earth and Space Solidification.
The launch also marked step forward for the Brazilian Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Brasileiria), which hopes to launch its first astronaut - Marcos Pontes - to the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2006 aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.
During the brief flight, the two-stage Texus rocket carried a new Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) facility to an altitude of more than 161 miles (260 kilometers), then returned it to Earth via parachute.
Esrange officials said the rocket performed flawlessly, but flew higher and landed further west than normal - about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) inside Norway in an uninhabited mountain region. One possible cause of the flight deviation may have been the need to aim the rocket more westward to avoid reindeer herders in the eastern section of the nominal landing zone, they added.