ABL static fires rocket for first orbital launch attempt

WASHINGTON — ABL Space Systems has successfully tested the rocket it plans to launch on the company’s maiden flight in the coming weeks.

Company executives said they conducted the static-fire test of the first stage of its RS1 rocket on July 9 at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island, where the company plans to conduct its first launch.

“The operation verified our startup sequence and the engine’s phase-level performance,” Harry O’Hanley, chief executive of ABL, said in a statement to SpaceNews. “As a testament to the intense preparation of our team, we completed the test on the first attempt.”

The static fire test also verified the performance of the ground systems, including a portable launch crank that can be packed into a shipping container. That system, O’Hanley said, makes it possible to launch from a flat path, like with Kodiak.

At the same time, the company has been working on the upper phase, which completed acceptance testing in May. That included tests of the stage’s avionics, the flight termination system and telemetry, he said.

“Right now, each phase has individually completed all major pre-flight testing,” O’Hanley said. “Then we will prepare for stage mate to perform final checkouts on the fully stacked vehicle and have a wet dress rehearsal. Start after that.”

The company has not set a date for that initial launch. “We’re still doing post-test analytics and it’s premature to set a launch window,” said Dan Piemont, president of ABL. He estimated a minimum of four to six weeks to issue aviation and maritime notifications about an upcoming launch.

The RS1 rocket can put up to 1,350 kilograms into low Earth orbit for $12 million per launch. The company, which has raised several hundred million dollars, has Lockheed Martin as its anchor customer. That company last year signed a contract for up to 58 RS1 launches over the next decade, in addition to selecting the rocket for the “UK Pathfinder” launch from the Shetland Islands, now slated for 2023.

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