ABL RS1 Rockets Undergoing Construction

ABL Moves Forward after Catastrophic Failure

Following the devastating crash of the uncrewed RS1 rocket on its maiden flight, ABL has outlined probable cause of failure and plans to move forward to orbit.

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Ashe S.

Ashe S.

Wed Jan 18 2023Written by Ashe S.

Following the devastating crash of the uncrewed RS1 rocket on its maiden flight, ABL has outlined probable cause of failure and plans to move forward to orbit.

Who is ABL?

ABL is one of the newest contenders in the smallsat market, with high hopes to join the likes of Rocket Lab in the market. Using modern manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing and computer-optimized manufacturing. ABL is aiming to build a cheap, reliable, and fresh ride to space from all over the world. Currently operating out of Alaska’s Kodiak Spaceport, ABL is already expanding to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, and the UK’s SaxaVord Spaceport.

Launch, Crash, and Aftermath

After many months of continual delays from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska, ABL’s RS1 was able to lift off successfully on January 10th, 2023. After all 9 E2 engines successfully ignited and were performing as expected, the rocket began to lift off the pad. All elements of the rocket were also operating successfully, with engine performance, guidance and navigation, tank pressure, and propellant lines all effectively demonstrated. At T+10.87 seconds, an anomaly caused all 9 engines to shut off instantaneously, and ground teams lost all communications to the rocket. RS1 continued to travel vertical for 2.5 seconds following the loss of power, and began to fall back to earth. RS1 reached a peak altitude of 761 feet (0.3km) and a maximum acceleration of 1.23 g’s. RS1 impacted 60 feet east of the launch pad, and the rocket was lost in an “energetic explosion and overpressure wave”. 

The resulting explosion was able to damage all nearby facilities to ABL, and likely have spilled over into other nearby pads, such as Astra’s Kodiak pad 3B. The largest damage was done to the water and propellant storage tanks, pad communications equipment, and launch mount. A fire created by the explosion also managed to spread into a fabric hanger, which destroyed integration equipment and other nearby supplies. While debris was found within a quarter of a mile of the impact site, no personnel or civilians were ever at risk from the launch.

In a press release posted today, seven days after the launch and crash of RS1, ABL believes that they have narrowed down the cause of failure. A complete loss of power in the rocket’s first stage occurred at T+10.87 seconds into flight, when only five percent of the onboard fuel had been spent. The loss of power contributed to all nine of the engines on the booster stage cutting out at once. After collecting data received by the second stage during flight, which was unaffected by the loss of power, ABL teams have been able to bring the plausible cause of the failure to a fire in the avionics bay of the booster stage. This is corroborated by many sensors and instrumentation going offline in sequential order. However, there are still myriads of factors needed to be reviewed by the investigation team, and may possibly reveal a different cause of failure. 

Moving Forward

After the pad was deemed safe, ABL and Pacific Spaceport personnel were able to inspect the pad and rocket debris. ABL has already begun working with the FAA to investigate the failure and mitigate further anomalies. All debris are being collected and cataloged, in order to help further the FAA investigation.

ABL maintains that they are continuing steadfast into flight two, and have high hopes for the RS1 program going forward. In the press release, ABL . Both stages of the RS1 flight two vehicles have been fully constructed and are ready to begin testing. All ten engines for flight two have gone through acceptance testing and are waiting to be mated onto the rocket. ABL will be required to complete the entire investigation before launching the next RS1, but it will take time to rebuild the ground station and launch pad for flight two. There is currently no date for RS1 flight two.