A powerful new mini-satellite launcher has failed to earn its wings on its first try.
ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket launched on its first orbital mission on Tuesday (Jan. 10) at 6:27 a.m. EST (2327 GMT; 2:27 p.m. local time) from a pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Launched in Alaska).
ABL representatives said the two-stage rocket fell short on first flight, failing to deliver a pair of CubeSats to low Earth orbit (LEO) as planned., (The launch was not livestreamed.)
“After liftoff, RS1 experienced an anomaly and aborted prematurely. The team is working through our anomaly response procedures in coordination with the PSCA and the FAA,” ABL said via Twitter (opens in new tab) 23 minutes after liftoff. (The acronyms refer to Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska and the US Federal Aviation Administration.)
The company said, “This is not the result we were expecting today, but it is what we prepared for. We will come back with additional information when it becomes available. Thank you to everyone for the support.” one more tweet (opens in new tab),
Tuesday was the second straight day for the launch anomaly to appear. On Monday (9 January), Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit during the company’s first liftoff from the United Kingdom, resulting in the loss of nine satellites.
Connected: history of rockets
a growing sector
Small satellites have two paths into orbit: They can hitchhike as “rideshare” payloads on larger rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, or they can get dedicated rides on smaller vehicles that take them right where they are. where they want to go.
In recent years, Rocket Lab has dominated the dedicated-riding market with its Electron vehicle, which has more than 30 orbital missions under its belt. But other companies are trying to make their place in this field. Virgin Orbit had surpassed four spaceflights in a row before Monday’s failure, for example, and Firefly Aerospace reached orbit for the first time in October 2022 with its Alpha vehicle.
(Another company, Astra, successfully deployed the payload for the first time in March 2022 with its Rocket 3, but the company has retired that vehicle after several failures and is now working on a larger rocket.)
California-based ABL, which was founded in 2017, aims to become a bigger player in small-scale launches with the RS1 and its associated ground system, which the company calls GSO.
The 88-foot-long (27 m) RS1 sports nine of ABL’s E2 engines in its first stage and one E2 in its second stage. The expendable rocket is capable of launching a 2,975 lb (1,350 kg) payload to LEO, according to the ABL’s users guide. (opens in new tab),
The company currently charges $12 million per RS1 liftoff — a relatively low price point for that kind of launching power. For comparison, Rocket Lab charges about $7.5 million for an Electron mission, which can deliver about 660 pounds (300 kg) to LEO.
ABL emphasizes a commitment to vertical integration and simplicity of design as keys to its projected success. In addition, both the RS1 and GSO are easily transportable and deployable. The Ground System, for example, fits into standard shipping containers and can be installed anywhere around the world that has a flat pad.
ABL’s website states, “With RS1 and GSO, we are able to launch wherever it is needed.” (opens in new tab),
ABL — which hasn’t yet revealed what the acronym stands for — has already garnered some key customer buy-in for its vision. For example, in 2021, the company signed a deal with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (opens in new tab) for 58 missions by 2029.
The success of Tuesday’s first mission would be a major step towards achieving such ambitious goals. However, failure may not prove to be a major handicap for ABL in the long run; After all, first rocket flights often don’t go according to plan.
Although Tuesday’s mission was a test flight, the RS1 was an operational spacecraft — shoebox-sized cubes called VariSat 1A and VariSat 1B, According to EverydayAstronaut.com (opens in new tab),
The CubeSats, each weighing about 24 pounds (11 kg), would have completed a three-satellite network operated by VeriSat LLC. VariSat 1C is safe in orbit; It launched a Falcon 9 in May 2022, along with about five dozen other satellites.
The main goal of the VariSat 1 mission is to “experiment and achieve flight legacy with a satellite designed to support HF [high frequency] Marine Data Communications,” according to a filing (opens in new tab) With the US Federal Communications Commission.
The ABL initially tried to launch its first mission in mid-November, but was unable to do so, suffering several aborts during the week-long period. After seeing unusual data from RS1, the company canceled an attempt on December 8, the second day of the next launch window. The ABL remained grounded until January 9 to deal with that issue, then weather delayed liftoff an additional day.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab), Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab),