UP Aerospace Rocket Crashes on Maiden Launch
SpaceLoft XL vehicle is slated to fly from New Mexico spaceport loaded with high school, university and entrepreneurial payloads.
Credit: UP Aerospace

The inaugural rocket from New Mexico's Spaceport America crashed in the desert today after failing in its mission to reach sub-orbital space.

The UP Aerospace rocket took off at 2:14 p.m. and was due back about 13 minutes later at White Sands Missile Range but it instead plummeted back to Earth prematurely.

It was not immediately clear where the rocket landed or what condition it was in, Associated Press reports.

The SpaceLoft XL is a 20-foot (6 meters) tall, single-stage solid-fuel rocket. At liftoff, the rocket quickly was supposed to accelerate to five times the speed of sound--nearly 3,400 miles per hour.

The rocket and its payload was scheduled to fly to the international definition of space, 62 miles (100 kilometers) in just a minute and a half, and to achieve an even higher flight apogee shortly thereafter.

The rocket's short flight was tracked by radars at the White Sands Missile Range, located just to the east of Spaceport America.

The New Mexico spaceport site is approximately 70 square kilometers of open, generally level range land north of Las Cruces and east of Truth or Consequences. This location was favored for its low population density, uncongested airspace and high elevation.

New Mexico's Spaceport America will cost a total of approximately $225 million to fully construct. Billed as the world's first "purpose-built" commercial spaceport for personal spaceflight, the state officials have attracted several space firms to New Mexico, including Virgin Galactic, Starchaser, UP Aerospace, Rocket Racing League, and the annual X-Prize Cup.

According to Jerry Larson, the President of UP Aerospace, Inc., the rocket motor for SpaceLoft XL was eyed for streamlined production. The group focused on ways to dramatically reduce rocket motor development and productions costs.

To achieve that goal, UP Aerospace partnered with Canadian-based Cesaroni Technology Inc. (CTI), located just outside of Toronto.

CTI has years of experience producing small, low-cost, high-performance rocket motors, but also shared with UP Aerospace an entrepreneurial philosophy that is conducive to support a new era of space commercialization, Larson told SPACE.com.

For example, the initial motor design for SpaceLoft XL began almost exactly a year ago. The Preliminary Design Review was completed in September 2005. The Critical Design Review for the motor was completed in late November 2005.

"From system-level requirements to a complete motor design took just three months," Larson added. A number of static tests of the rocket motor were conducted at CTI, with overall performance of the motor exceeding all requirements and expectations, he noted before today's launch.

"Many aspects of our motor are proprietary. However, what we can say is that the motor incorporates a carbon-fiber-composite case with a case-bonded composite propellant grain," Larson said.

A new all-electronic ignition system device (ISD) for the suborbital rocket was used, developed by ATK at its Tactical Systems division in Rocket Center, West Virginia. A final test of the rocket's ignition system, using ATK's ISD, was conducted at Spaceport America on September 7, Larson said, paving the way for today's inaugural space launch from the site.

The loss of UP Aerospace's first rocket marks the second failed private launch debut this year. The privately-developed Falcon 1 rocket, built by El Segundo, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), failed just after a March 24 liftoff. A fuel leak prompted by a broken nut was cited as that booster's failure.

Associated Press contributed to this story.