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Space X launches first rocket since Florida explosion

The private space firm has successfully launched and landed an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket from an air base in California. The rocket sent 10 communications satellites into orbit.

The 70 meter (230-foot) rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9.54 am local time (1754 UTC) on Saturday.

"It's a clean sweep - 10 for 10," SpaceX launch commentator John Insprucker said after the satellites were released.

Moments after the Falcon 9 rocket soared into the sky, the rocket's two sections separated as planned, sending its payload, 10 satellites for the mobile and data communications company Iridium, into orbit.

The split allowed the tall portion of the rocket, known as the first stage, to head back to Earth. It touched down on a platform in the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes after launch.

The launch returned Space X founder and entrepreneur Elon Musk's reusable rocket technology to flight for the first time since a fiery launch pad explosion in Florida last September.

The company has made several changes since the incident to the Falcon 9 rocket, which has been developed to bring down the cost of space flight.

The canister is being redesigned, but until then Space X is addressing the issue by modifying its fueling procedures.

September's explosion destroyed a $62 million (58 million euro) SpaceX booster and a $200 million (188 million euro) Israeli communications satellite that it was to put into orbit two days later.

The accident clouded the company's aggressive agenda, which includes beginning to ferry US astronauts into space next year, when it also plans to make its first voyage to Mars.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk.

It is the first private company to complete commercial space missions, including re-supply flights to the International Space Station.

It has made over 30 successful launches to date, and seeks to be the first to offer passenger flights into space.

mm/kl (AFP, dpa, Reuters)