Launch startup ABL Space Systems’ The first orbital launch attempt ended in failure on Tuesday after all nine engines of the RS1 rocket’s first stage shut down simultaneously. The missile then hit the launch pad and was destroyed on impact.
The rocket took off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island at about 6:27 p.m. EST. It is unclear how soon after launch the engines failed. The rocket was carrying a technology demonstration CubeSat for data analytics company OmniTeq. While the payload was lost, no personnel were injured by the missile strike.
As is customary with anomalous rocket launches, the company is working with spaceport officials and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the cause of the engine failure.
ABL president Dan Piemont told toptecheasy.com that while the investigation is still in its early stages, “the simultaneity of the closure is strong evidence, but it will take more time for the team to narrow down contributing factors and a root cause.”
ABL’s 88-foot-tall expendable rocket RS1 is capable of carrying up to 1,350 kilograms to low Earth orbit, similar to Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha vehicle. The company has previously said that each launch would cost about $12 million, putting it in a growing field of competitors looking for fast launch services at a low cost.
Tuesday’s failure comes just one day after a Virgin Orbit mission encountered its own anomaly, ending the mission prematurely. Two other rockets have also suffered failures in the past month: Vega-C from Arianespace and Zhuque-2 from the Chinese company Landspace, which would be the first methane-fuelled rocket to reach orbit.
ABL has raised $420 million since its inception in 2017, including a $200 million Series B renewal round in December 2021 at a valuation of $2.4 billion. The investors include Lockheed Martin, which bought a block of up to 58 launches from the startup last April.
“The Flight 2 vehicle is fully assembled and ready to begin its flight campaign, so we can’t wait to get started on that once the Flight 1 investigation is complete,” Piemont said.