"It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight," said Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies, in a blog post.
Musk, a former Internet entrepreneur who founded the online payment service PayPal and later sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion, is attempting through the SpaceX project to prove the viability of a private launch industry for commercial and passenger space travel.
So far, however, he's discovering that launching a rocket is more difficult than launching a Web startup.
The project's first effort to put a vehicle into orbit, in March 2006, was defeated by a leaky fuel line. A year later, a second attempt had to be written off after the rocket made it into space but then wobbled off its vertical axis and tumbled out of control.
Saturday's launch failed when the two-stage Falcon 1 failed to separate properly after taking off from an island in the central Pacific 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. "This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened," wrote Musk.
The rocket was supposed to have placed into orbit satellites for the U.S. Department of Defense and for a Malaysian research and development organization.
Musk said SpaceX's third straight launch failure does not mean the end of the project, noting that Space Exploration Technologies recently received a new round of funding. "There should be absolutely zero question that SpaceX will prevail in reaching orbit and demonstrating reliable space transport," he wrote.