A privately built rocket has made its first free-flight in the California desert as part of a NASA program exploring vertical landing systems for solar system exploration.
The autonomous flight occurred earlier this month at the Mojave Air and Space Port about 90 miles north of Los Angeles.
Masten Space Systems' unmanned rocket named Xombie lifted off the ground, flew horizontally and landed at a pad 164 feet away. The demonstration lasted 67 seconds.
In 2009, Masten won a $1 million prize in a NASA-backed simulated lunar landing contest using the Xombie rocket. The space agency awarded Masten and another company, Armadillo Aerospace, $475,000 in 2010 to test vehicles that could carry small payloads to "near-space" - altitudes between 65,000 feet and 350,000 feet.
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