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ABL Space Systems failed test of a rocket stage

A nominal static-fire test of ABL Space System’s RS1 upper stage on Jan. 7. A similar test Jan. 19 resulted in a “hard start” of the engine that destroyed the stage. Credit: ABL Space Systems

A planned test of a small launch vehicle’s second stage developed by ABL Space Systems ended in failure when it burned out in an accident on January 19, 2021.

Witnesses at Mojave Air and Space Port in California say they heard the explosion at approximately 4:30 p.m. It was followed by black smoke that spread throughout the area, which was also recorded by cameras of the wildfire tracking network. The smoke diffused within 20 minutes.

Representatives of the airport, where several companies test engines and other parts of space vehicles, report that the incident occurred on the side of ABL Space Systems. At the time, ABL was testing Stage 2 of RS1, a small launch vehicle. The president of the company, Dan Piemont, confirmed that they lost the second stage due to a test anomaly. He also adds that the team responded quickly and did an excellent job keeping the test stand safe. For this reason, there were no deaths or injuries.

RS1 is one of the company’s latest developments, which is designed to deliver up to 1,350 kg of payload into low Earth orbit for a reasonably low price in the industry, 12 million. According to Piemont’s latest announcement, the company planned to launch RS1 in late 2021. However, the crash and the lack of updates indicate that the timeline could be pushed considerably.

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