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ABL Space Systems“ rocket fails on maiden launch

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Space startup ABL Space Systems’ maiden RS1 rocket mission failed after it was launched on Tuesday from the Pacific Spaceport Center in Alaska, after delays late last year.

“After liftoff, RS1 experienced an anomaly and shut down prematurely,” ABL said in a tweet.

The startup’s previous attempt at launch was on Monday, but pushed the launch to Tuesday due to high winds. ABL faced a series of delays due to weather and technical reasons late last year.

ABL’s flagship RS1 rocket, standing 88 feet or nearly 12 storeys tall, is designed to lift 2,976 pounds (1,350kg) of small satellites into orbit, and is at the center of the startup’s aim to compete with a growing field of small rocket builders.

ABL, founded in 2017, raised $200 million in fresh capital in an October 2021 funding round that valued the startup at $2.4 billion at the time, the company said. The funding was used to scale development of the RS1 rocket.

The startup, in which Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) is an investor, is racing to make its first trek to orbit and kick off a business tailored for small satellites, such as low-Earth orbiting internet satellite constellations. Inc (AMZN.O) chose Boeing-Lockheed Martin (BA.N) joint venture United Launch Alliance to replace ABL’s contract for its first two prototype satellite launches early this year after delays over RS1 development.

The ecommerce firm’s contract for at least two launches with the startup is still valid, although Amazon is unsure which satellites will use those rockets.

Lockheed Martin inked a block-buy contract with ABL in 2021 for up to 58 rocket launches, a deal potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The California-based company looks to charge customers about $12 million per launch of its rocket or nearly $9,000 per kilogram for launch into low-Earth orbit.

While companies such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab USA Inc (RKLB.O) operate reusable rockets and others are developing similar launch vehicles, ABL aims to rapidly produce its low-cost RS1 rocket that cannot be used more than once.

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