ABL is pushing toward RS1 maiden flight

RS1 is ready for its maiden flight. After fixing previous issues, ABL is preparing for the second series of launch attempts.

After experiencing troubles during its first launch campaign, ABL’s RS1 rocket is on track for a new attempt on Wednesday, December 7th, 2022. Flight 1, meant to build flight heritage for the launcher, will carry into orbit two CubeSats for communications applications. The Californian-Based company, already funded by the Space Force, has secured 26 launches through 2025, with an additional 32 optioned until 2029, thanks to an agreement with Lockheed Martin.

RS1 vertical at Pad 3 - Pacific Space Port Complex Alaska, Kodiak Island. Credits: ABL Space Systems
RS1 vertical at Pad 3 – Pacific Space Port Complex Alaska, Kodiak Island. Credits: ABL Space Systems

The events so far

Launching a rocket into space it’s not an easy task, especially when you’re trying to develop a new concept of portable Ground Support Equipment (GS0) capable of being carried to various launch sites via container.

The first step was to test the engines in their launch configuration; thus, the company carried out a static fire on July 9th, 2022, in its facility at Kodiac Island, Alaska. The next item on the agenda was to perform a Wet Dress Rehearsal to test GS0; WRD was completed on September 13th, 2022, clearing the vehicle and support equipment for launch.

RS1 Wet Dress Rehearsal. Credits: ABL Space Systems via Twitter
RS1 Wet Dress Rehearsal. Credits: ABL Space Systems via Twitter

At this point, the first problems struck. ABL recently published a press release informing the causes for the scrub of RS1 first three launch attempts.

L1A1 (Launch 1 Attempt 1): a vendor valve in the First Stage Fuel Pressurization System failed, leading to a rapid decrease of pressure while the tanks were loaded at 75% of their capacity. 

L1A2: once substituted the leaking valve, the team proceeded with a second attempt three days later. On this occasion, the clock arrived at T-1.8s and stopped due to insufficient Gass Generator Pressure in half of the units. The team routed the problem to LOx; specifically, the company decided to reduce chill volume during the static fire campaign to save Oxidizer for launch operations.

L1A3: this failure was a software issue instead. The onboard computer decided to halt the countdown at T-1.75s due to insufficient pressure in TEA-TEB lines; further analysis revealed that the value was just 1psi out of nominal, which wouldn’t have resulted in failure on the system. This issue led to a redefinition of safety margins for the onboard computer.

With all these issues covered, the company aims to launch the RS1 on December 7th, 2022!

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RS1 Rocket

RS1 fully embarks on the company philosophy of being as simple, reliable, and affordable as possible. It is a two-stage launch vehicle powered by a combination of E2 sea level and vacuum engines capable of carrying 970 Kg to a 500km SSO (Sun Synchronous Orbit) or 700 kg to an elliptical 8000 km MEO transfer orbit and 320 kg to GTO.

RS1 Rocket Architecture. Credits: ABL Space Systems
RS1 Rocket Architecture. Credits: ABL Space Systems

The structure is 1.8 m in diameter and 26.8 m in height; the first stage host 9 E2 sea-level engines running on an Rp-1 / LOx combination, while a single E2 vacuum-optimized engine with the same fuel combination propels the second one.

All the rocket’s elements – first stage, second stage, and payload fairings – are designed to be placed inside a single container each for fast shipment and integration at the launch facility.

GS0 – Ground Support

Aiming to deliver the launcher and the needed Ground Support Equipment, ABL designed a highly flexible system capable of being packed inside various containers to be quickly delivered to any US launch complex; a UK option is also available.

GS0 Ground Support Equipment Graphic. Credits: ABL Space Systems
GS0 Ground Support Equipment Graphic. Credits: ABL Space Systems

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Dario Scimone

Dario Scimone

Born in Varese, I am a Space Engineering Master's Student at Politecnico di Milano. Moreover, I also have the role of Board member and Projects Dept. Co-Leader inside PoliSpace, the first space-related student's association of PoliMi.

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