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The launch failed on the first launch as the rocket exploded off the coast of Alaska


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A rocket operated by a California-based startup failed off the coast of Alaska on Tuesday, marking another mishap for companies hoping to offer their services to launch multiple small satellites into orbit.

Private company 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 after that there had been an “anomaly”, an aerospace term for a problem or misstep, and the rocket had “shut down prematurely”.

“It’s not the result we were hoping for today, but the one we prepared for. We will return with further information as it becomes available,” he said the company said in a tweet. “Thanks to everyone for the support.”

The mission was intended to carry two small satellites into orbit for OmniTeq, which recently spun off its space division. The company signed an agreement for ABL’s first launch in 2021, when it was still operating under the name L2 Aerospace.

ABL’s launch attempt on Tuesday was the second failure in two days for a booming new industry: ABL is one of a long list of companies chasing the same market – offering relatively cheap and easy access to launch services for operators of small satellites that in the past had to wait for additional space to open up aboard larger rockets.

On Monday, Virgin Orbit, ABL’s direct competitor, which is trying to launch its first mission outside the UK, admitted that its air-launched rocket failed to reach orbit.

The core of the business model, championed by companies such as ABL and Virgin Orbit, offers frequent trips to space and makes the process more responsive to the needs of small satellite companies, including those that essentially build massive constellations of satellites in low earth orbit for various purposes, such as providing space-based internet or monitoring Earth’s climate and resources.

These small spaceships include Small satelliteswhich are as large as a family kitchen fridge, and a popular subset of SmallSats called CubeSats, which are standardized, miniature satellites that can be smaller than a shoebox.

Startup companies are building rockets that are much smaller than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, for example. But so far, the new class of smaller missiles has not proven to be as reliable as their larger counterparts. Almost every startup in the industry has experienced at least one failed launch.

In a crowded field, ABL hoped to join a short list of US-based businesses that have scored at least one successful mission. The first, in 2018, was Rocket Lab, which has so far had more than two dozen successful launches and three failures. Startups Astra and Firefly have also delivered satellites into orbit – as well as suffered failures.

Those companies may soon be joined by another startup, Relativity, which currently has its first rocket ready for launch in Florida.

Although all these rockets designed to launch small satellites are taking off, they are facing competition from larger rockets that have started to provide certain services in the same market. SpaceX, for example, launched SmallSat “carpooling” business in 2019 with its massive Falcon 9 rocket, and the company has so far launched six missions dedicated to small satellites for various customers.

ABL’s failed launch on Monday comes after the first few attempts to launch its RS1 rocket in December failed. The company dealt with several technical issues, including a faulty sensor and several pressure issues, to prepare the RS1 for Tuesday’s flight test.




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