US start-up Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has test fired its Merlin first-stage rocket engine. The test was part of an ambitious plan to develop a low-cost launcher, the Falcon, capable of placing a 450kg payload into low-Earth orbit at a cost per flight as low as $6 million.

El Segundo, California-based SpaceX developed the 60,000lb-thrust (267kN), liquid oxygen/ kerosene engine in just nine months, and hopes to have the two-stage Falcon ready for launch by year-end. The vehicle will be launched from the state-owned pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida's Space Launch Complex 36.

SpaceX was formed last year by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, who co-founded electronic payment leader PayPal, which was sold to Ebay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

Source: Flight International