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Amateur rocket fizzles in record attempt

By Richard Stenger (CNN)

Secret Nevada desert location where CSXT rocket was launched
Secret Nevada desert location where CSXT rocket was launched

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(CNN) -- An amateur-built rocket fell apart seconds after takeoff from a secret Nevada launch site this month, dashing hopes that it would fly beyond the edge of space.

The Civilian Space eXploration Team (CSXT) had designed the unmanned Primera rocket to reach a height of more than 60 miles.

Fifty miles high is commonly accepted as the edge of space. It is the minimum altitude that humans much reach for the U.S. government to designate them astronauts.

"The launch was spectacular and the rocket was performing as planned. However, the rocket experienced motor failure during the flight and the flight was terminated," said Eric Knight, co-leader of the CSXT mission.

The September 19 flight attempt had been postponed several days due to high winds around the makeshift rocket launch site, a dry lakebed in the Black Rock desert of northwest Nevada.

The Minnesota-based group tried to cross the space threshold in 2000, but that rocket fizzled out at roughly 7 miles when wind shear tore off a fin.

The upgraded model was a 17-foot, 511-pound, single-stage vehicle, powered by solid rocket fuel similar to that in the detachable boosters that push the space shuttles into orbit.

The Primera was expected to reach its lofty goal within 90 seconds, which would have broken CSXT's previous world record for amateur rocket speed of 3,205 mph.

Despite the setback, CSXT vows to press ahead, though future plans for another attempt remain sketchy.

"It won't be for at least another year. We're going to regroup and take a break, but people haven't heard the last from us," CSXT founder Ky Michaelson said.

"I told myself I would hold my head up high no matter what happened. The main thing was that everyone was safe."

The hobby rocketeers will need some time to figure out what went wrong.

"This is the first time we had trouble with our large motor. We don't know exactly what happened. All our electronics were destroyed," Michaelson said.

Previous amateur launch milestones include a 1996 shot by the California-based Reaction Research Society, which sent a rocket payload up 53 miles.

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