SpaceX Rocket Successfully Carries Commercial Satellite Into Space; Launch Seen For Miles Around

By Ben Wolford on December 4, 2013 11:01 AM EST

SpaceX Launch
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Tuesday evening. (Photo: SpaceX)

After two failed attempts, Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched a private communications satellite into orbit Tuesday, a feat many say has cemented the startup company's reputation in the commercial space travel industry. Technical problems delayed the first two launch attempts last week, and the rocket was taken down off the scaffolding for inspection. Musk, CEO and Chief Designer of SpaceX, said the company was only being "paranoid."

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But on Tuesday evening, as the sun was settling down in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the company's flagship rocket, the Falcon 9, ignited its burners and sailed into the sky. Its payload was a satellite called SES-8, owned by a communications firm in Luxembourg, intended to relay television signals to China, India, and Southeast Asia. For SpaceX, it was the seventh successful rocket launch. Previously, it had given rides to private and public customers, including ferrying NASA equipment to the International Space Station.

"The successful insertion of the SES-8 satellite confirms the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry's highest performance standards," said Musk in a statement. The company added that the flight Tuesday was its first from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the station's first commercial launch in more than four years. It also marks a huge milestone for SpaceX as it tries to wedge itself between a cozy monopoly on U.S. military contracts held by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. With this launch, SpaceX qualifies to compete for National Security Space missions.

The rocket lit up the sky around 5:45 p.m. People hundreds of miles away in South Florida said they could see it streak out over the ocean. A woman in West Palm Beach, 140 miles to the south, tweeted a picture of it. "One of the great things about living in Florida: this giant rocket went up from Cape Canaveral today, and we could see it from South Florida, over 160 miles away," Brett Clarkson, a Sun Sentinel reporter in Deerfield Beach, posted on Facebook. He said even from that distance, he could see "a bright light with a white halo around it heading out over the ocean, its giant vapor trail parallel to the horizon." Some watched live video of the launch.

According to the company, SpaceX has nearly 50 scheduled launches, and more than half of them are for commercial customers. SpaceX operates now as little more than a trucking company with extra thrust, even posting its rates on its website: 29,000 pounds of cargo for $56.5 million. But Musk, the starry-eyed California investor who founded SpaceX (as well as Tesla Motors), makes clear its goals: "The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets." On Twitter, Musk thanked SES, its pilot customer, "for taking a chance on SpaceX. We've given it our all." He also tweeted a picture of earth, snapped by the Falcon 9's onboard camera.

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