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The fourth time is a charm for SpaceX, after successfully launching a rocket into orbit

Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, successfully launched a commercial rocket into orbit carrying a dummy payload.  On the company's fourth attempt, the Falcon I vehicle headed into space after launching from Omelek Island with a 364-pound dummy satellite.

SpaceX, backed by PayPal founder and Tesla Motors Chairman Elon Musk, wants to become the first company able to launch a privately developed rocket into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Musk hopes the company is one day able to carry supplies -- and even astronauts or space tourists -- into space and to the International Space Station (ISS).

"This really means a lot," Musk said after the successful launch.  "There's only a handful of countries on Earth that have done this.  It's usually a country thing, not a company thing.  We did it!"

Prior to the successful launch on Sunday, the latest attempt made it 135 miles above Earth's surface, but the rocket failed after the second stage was unable to separate from the first stage.  This time around, the aluminum chamber designed to mimic a satellite will stay attached to the two-stage rocket as it begins to orbit Earth.

The Falcon 9 rocket could help NASA take cargo and astronauts into orbit in the future, assuming SpaceX can continue its successful launches.  In addition, an injection of private capital makes it possible for SpaceX to keep attempting to prove the effectiveness of Falcon for one-tenth the total launch cost of commercial launches.

SpaceX plans to launch another Falcon 1 sometime in early 2009, with the Malaysian RazakSat satellite as its main cargo.  If all goes according to plan, a Falcon 9 launch is expected sometime next summer.




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