U.S. industry was launched into the space exploration business with the blastoff of the first licensed commercial spacecraft, officials said.

The successful, 15-minute suborbital voyage Wednesday of the Consort 1 should convince potential investors and customers that private businesses can send a payload into space safely and reliably, said Carol Lane, director of the Department of Transportation office that issued the pioneer launch license."I think we'll see growth," she said minutes after the slender rocket shot its payload of scientific experiments 178 miles high. "The commercial space industry has been slow to develop, and this is one of the most positive developments we've seen in a long time."

The 630-pound payload capsule went through about seven minutes of near weightlessness, then parachuted gently onto the desert floor of White Sands Missile Range about 58 miles north of the launch pad.

A preliminary look at the payload contents showed the flight was successful, a spokesman said.