February 8, 2023

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ABL Space Systems rocket experiences simultaneous engine shutdown shortly after liftoff • TechCrunch

Launch company ABL Space Systems’ first orbital launch attempt failed on Tuesday after all nine engines on the RS1 rocket’s first stage were shut down simultaneously. The rocket subsequently hit the launch pad and was destroyed on impact.

The rocket launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island at approximately 6:27 p.m. EST. It is unclear how quickly the engines failed after liftoff. The rocket carried a CubeSat technology demonstration for data analysis company OmniTeq. While the payload was lost, no personnel were injured by the missile impact.

As is usual with anomalous rocket launches, the company is working with officials at the spaceport and the US Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the cause of the engine failure.

ABL President Dan Piemont told TechCrunch that while the investigation is still in its early stages, “the concurrency of the shutdown is strong evidence, but the team will need more time to narrow down the contributing factors and a root cause.”

ABL’s 88-foot RS1 single-use rocket can carry up to 1,350 kilograms into low-Earth orbit, similar to Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha vehicle. The company has previously said each launch would cost around $12 million, making it a growing field of competitors looking to offer fast launch services at a low cost.

Tuesday’s failure comes just a day after a Virgin Orbit mission experienced an anomaly of its own that ended the mission prematurely. Two other rockets also failed in the past month: Arianespace’s Vega-C and Chinese company Landspace’s Zhuque-2, which would have been 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 with a valuation of $2.4 billion. 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’re excited to get started as soon as the Flight 1 investigation is complete,” Piedmont said.