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SpaceX rocket soars on debut flight

* Privately built SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket passes first test

* It will deliver cargo to space station in future

* Company is run by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 4 (Reuters) - An unmanned, privately built rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday on a successful test flight before it begins cargo runs to the International Space Station for NASA.

The launch marked a major milestone for rocket builder Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which plans to use its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules to launch people, as well as payloads, into orbit.

The 158-foot (48-metre) tall Falcon 9 booster, topped with a mock-up capsule, lifted off at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) from a refurbished launch pad just south of the Kennedy Space Center.

The two-stage rocket, which burns liquid oxygen and kerosene, was headed toward an orbit 155 miles (250 km) above Earth. The flight was expected to last nine minutes and 38 seconds, though SpaceX said any flight time after liftoff would be helpful for preparing for future missions.

The launch was delayed by two technical glitches, one of which cut off an earlier launch attempt seconds before liftoff, and by a boat that strayed into the launch danger zone.

SpaceX is run by PayPal millionaire Elon Musk, who is also the chairman and chief executive of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors.

Falcon 9’s next flight is scheduled for later this year -- a second demonstration run to test the rocket and the Dragon capsule. If that flight, which is sponsored by NASA, goes well SpaceX wants to use its third Falcon 9 mission to fly and dock at the space station next year. The company is one of two that have contracts with NASA to fly cargo to the space station.

U.S. President Barack Obama wants to turn over station crew transport to the private sector as well, a service now provided by Russia at a cost of about $50 million per person. NASA is retiring its space shuttles after two more missions to complete assembly of the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations. (Editing by Jane Sutton and Mohammad Zargham)

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