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1st launch from N.M. spaceport set for Monday

Sunday, September 24, 2006

EL PASO, Texas -- After several delays, the first space-bound rocket is set to launch from a southern New Mexico spaceport.

UP Aerospace plans to launch a SpaceLoft XL rocket early Monday from Spaceport America in Upham, N.M., about 95 miles northwest of El Paso. The 13-minute suborbital flight, among the first from a commercial spaceport in the United States, will hurtle 50 experimental and other payloads about 70 miles above Earth.

The rocket to be launched Monday is expected to land at White Sands Missile Range, about 33 miles northeast of the Upham launch site.

Eric Knight, Connecticut-based UP Aerospace CEO, said Monday's flight will also mark the first time the public has "direct access to space."

He said payload space on one of his rockets range in price from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size. Each SpaceLoft XL rocket can hold about 110 pounds of cargo.

Several other UP Aerospace flights have been scheduled for later this year, including an Oct. 21 flight that is expected to carry the ashes of James Doohan, who gained worldwide notoriety for his portrayal of chief engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on the original "Star Trek" TV series, Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, and several other people.

The Upham launch site is also the planned home of a state-built $225 million spaceport. Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, announced plans last year to headquarter his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, in New Mexico and launch flights from the spaceport by the end of this decade.


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