Tuesday, January 10, 2023

ABL Fails on 1st Orbital Launch Attempt

Tuesday afternoon at 2:27 PM local time (6:27 PM EST), smallsat launcher ABL Space failed in its first attempt to put its RS1 rocket into orbit.  More than that, it was the first launch of their RS1.  In my "Top US Launch Companies" on Monday, Jan. 2nd, I rated them at #9 and said,

Back in August, I reported on speculation ABL would attempt to join the "one metric ton to orbit" club with a launch in early September.  Three months later they still haven't completed that launch and are now talking about a new launch window on January 9th.  Frankly, this launch is getting to the point where it needs to happen. 

I was able to start to watch their launch coverage on YouTube last night but just as coverage was about to start, they added a 75 minute delay, eventually canceling their attempt.  Space.com (first link above) said the launch was not livestreamed today.  

"After liftoff, RS1 experienced an anomaly and shut down prematurely. The team is working through our anomaly response procedures in coordination with PSCA and the FAA," ABL said via Twitter  23 minutes after liftoff. (The acronyms refer to the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.)

"This is not the outcome we were hoping for today, but one that we prepared for. We'll revert with additional information when available. Thanks to all for the support," the company added in another tweet.

I've written several times about the One (metric) Ton to orbit race, and ABL has always figured prominently as a contender.  (For clarity, one metric ton is 1000 kg, which works out to be about 2204 lb.s US) I always thought this was between Relativity, Firefly and ABL.  The race centers on the ability to launch small payloads on ridesharing missions at the lowest costs for the small colleges and companies that need to put something into orbit.  

Rocket Lab is currently the leader in small rocket launches, with over 30 successful missions of their Electron rocket; but the Electron's payload isn't in the one ton class; it can only launch about 300kg.  Their Neutron rocket, which can lift eight metric tons, is still primarily on the drawing boards.  ABL's RS1 should be capable of launching up to 1.35 metric tons, (1350 kg or 2,975 pounds) of payload to LEO.

The RS1 on ABL's test stand on Kodiak Island, Alaska on Nov. 14, 2022.  ABL Space Photo.

ABL is not likely to be in dire financial straits because of this.  In 2021 the company signed a deal with Lockheed Martin for up to 58 missions through 2029.  I can't imagine Lock-Mart would sign a deal without a way out if ABL can't make their system work, but I also can't imagine that a company that has been around and in aerospace as long as the various parts of Lock-Mart have been would cancel the contract over failure of one mission.  First attempts at orbit generally don't make it. 


  1. What is the collective mass of the jan 6th protestors?

    1. Better question: What is the collective mass of Congress, both the House and the Senate?

  2. Well, on their first try, not making it to orbit is indeed no cause for alarm. It took 4 tries for the Falcon 1 to make it, after all!