A small commercial rocket carrying six experiments soared into space for a brief suborbital flight Wednesday in a successful mission for a fledgling private space company.
Starfire 1, owned by Space Services Inc. of America, a Houston firm run by developer David Hannah Jr. and former astronaut Donald (Deke) Slayton, thundered into clear blue skies from this desolate Army rocket facility.
“The launch was picture perfect,” said Don Montoya, a spokesman at the missile range. “It went off . . . exactly when it was supposed to go.”
The flight of Starfire 1 marked the first commercial launch involving a privately financed payload, officials said. The $1.1-million flight was paid for by the Consortium for Materials Development in Space at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The payload parachuted back to White Sands, landing about 60 miles from the launch pad. It remained intact during the fall back to Earth and was retrieved for analysis by scientists.
Starfire 1 was designed to provide more than seven minutes of weightlessness for the six on-board experiments. The experiments were devoted to materials processing, including one using a small furnace to learn more about how alloys are formed in weightlessness and another focused on studying how liquids mix in the absence of gravity.