ABL Space Systems Rocket Engine Test Failure

ABL Space Systems, a small satellite launcher founded by people with experience at SpaceX and other aerospace companies and funded with around US$ 400 million from investors including Lockheed Martin, has maintained a low public profile. Their rocket is a simple design with additively manufactured gas generator LOX/RP-1 engines in a two stage configuration. The have been planning to launch “real soon now” for some time, with the latest expectations for February 2022.

On 2022-01-19, during a test of the second stage rocket engine, an explosion destroyed the engine and stage with a kaboom and large cloud of black smoke. The president of ABL said, “This afternoon we lost Stage 2 of RS1 in a test anomaly. Everyone is safe and the team did an admirable job navigating the anomaly working to safe the test stand.” Oh, those “anomalies”.

One hopes their rocket is better designed that the company’s hideous Web site, which is, of course, built with WordPress.


Off topic, maybe. That is a staggering sight in the background of the video of all those commercial jets in well-known liveries parked in the Mojave desert. I would guess there is probably over a Billion Dollars worth of aircraft that investors have bought & paid for – and are now paying extra for them to sit idle. It puts the $0.4 Billion that investors are gambling on ABL into perspective.

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Jeff Foust of SpaceNews reports, “ABL Space Systems test accident to delay first launch by three months”.

Harry O’Hanley, chief executive of ABL, told SpaceNews that the stage’s E2 Vacuum engine suffered a “hard start” in the hot gas circuit of its turbopump. A hard start is when the flow of propellants and ignition fluid in an engine doesn’t allow for a gradual increase in energy, but instead an explosive rise. Hard starts can damage or destroy rocket engines.

In the case of this test, O’Hanley said, the hard start caused “a substantial fire on the aft end of the vehicle, resulting in a complete failure about 20 seconds later.” No personnel were near the test stand at the time of the incident, and there no significant damage to three adjacent test cells at the site.