ABL static fires rocket for first orbital launch attempt

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WASHINGTON — ABL Space Systems successfully test-fired the rocket it plans to launch on the company’s first flight in the next several weeks.

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

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

The static-fire test also verified the performance of the ground systems, including a portable launch stool that can be packed into a shipping container. That system, O’Hanley said, enables launching from a flat pad like at Kodiak.

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

“At this point, each stage has individually completed all major pre-flight tests,” O’Hanley said. “Next, we’ll prepare for stage mate to perform final checkouts on the fully stacked vehicle and perform a wet dress rehearsal. Following that, launch.”

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

The RS1 rocket is capable if placing up to 1,350 kilograms into low Earth orbit for $12 million a launch. The company, which has raised several hundred million dollars, has Lockheed Martin as an anchor customer. That company signed a contract last year for up to 58 RS1 launches over the next decade, in addition to selecting the rocket for the “U.K. Pathfinder” launch from the Shetland Islands, now projected for 2023.