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A missile operated by a California start-up failed near the coast of Alaska on Tuesday, marking another mishap Companies hope to offer their services to launch numerous small satellites into orbit.
Privately held ABL Space Systems attempted to launch its RS1 rocket at 1:27 p.m. local time (5:27 p.m. ET) in Alaska. But the company confirmed shortly thereafter that there was an “anomaly,” an aerospace term for a problem or misstep, and the rocket was “early shut down.”
“It’s not the result we were hoping for today, but one we prepared for. We’ll be in touch with additional information as soon as it becomes available.” the company said in a tweet. “Thanks everyone for the support.”
The mission aimed to launch two small satellites for OmniTeq, which recently spun off its space division. The company signed a agreement for ABL’s first launch in 2021, when it was still known as L2 Aerospace.
ABL’s launch attempt on Tuesday was the second failure in two days for a burgeoning new industry: ABL is one in a long list of companies pursuing the same market — offering relatively cheap and easy access to launch services for operators small satellites that have had to wait for additional space to open in previous years aboard larger rockets.
On Monday, Virgin Orbit, a direct competitor of ABL trying to launch its first mission from the UK, admitted its rocket was air-launched could not reach orbit.
The core of the business model, supported by companies like ABL and Virgin Orbit, is to offer frequent trips into space and to better tailor the process to the needs of small satellite companies, including those that are essentially building huge constellations of satellites Low Earth Orbit for a variety of purposes such as B. the provision of space-based Internet or the monitoring of the climate and resources of the earth.
These small spacecraft include SmallSatswhich are the size of a family-sized kitchen fridge, and a popular subset of SmallSats called CubeSats are standardized miniature satellites that can be smaller than a shoebox.
The startups are building rockets that are much smaller than, say, SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9. But so far, the new class of smaller rockets hasn’t proven as reliable as their larger counterparts. Almost every startup in the industry has suffered at least one startup failure.
In a crowded field, ABL hoped to join a short list of US-based companies that have scored at least one successful mission. The first in 2018 was Rocket Lab, which has so far boasted more than two dozen successful launches and three failures. startups astra and Firefly have also put satellites into orbit – and suffered too setbacks.
Those companies could soon be joined by another startup, Relativity, which currently has its first rocket ready at a Florida launch pad.
As all of these rockets designed to launch small satellites take off, they face competition from larger rockets that have started offering specific services to the same market. For example, SpaceX launched a SmallSatrideshare” business in 2019 with its powerful Falcon 9 rocket, and the company has so far launched six missions for different customers dedicated to small satellites.
ABL’s failed launch on Monday comes after initial attempts to get the RS1 rocket off the ground in December fell short. The company worked on several technical issues, including a faulty sensor and some pressurization issues, to prepare the RS1 for Tuesday’s flight test.