ABL Space Systems Makes First Orbital Launch Attempt - NASASpaceFlight.com

ABL Space Systems Makes First Orbital Launch Attempt – NASASpaceFlight.com

ABL Space Systems (ABL) is scheduled to launch the first flight of the RS1 launch vehicle as early as Monday, November 14, 2022. The three-hour launch window opens at 1:00 PM AKST (22:00 UTC). On board are two CubeSats built by OmniTeq, formerly L2 Aerospace.

RS1 will attempt to place its payload into low Earth orbit nearly nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Pad 3C at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska.

The RS1 vehicle is raised to the vertical three hours before the start. An hour later, fuel loading begins, with kerosene and liquid oxygen (LOX) loading lasting up to T-15 minutes.

RS1 is raised vertically on LP-3C. (Image credit: ABL Space Systems)

The automatic launch sequence begins at T-10 minutes after a Go/No-Go poll. The vehicle switches to internal power at T-1 minute and 30 seconds.

Two seconds before launch, the nine first stage E2 engines fire. At T0, the rocket lifts off and flies south from Kodiak toward an orbit with an inclination of 87.3 degrees at an altitude of 250 km by 360 km.

The next three key flight milestones will occur seconds apart, with main engine cut-off (MECO) occurring at T+ 2 minutes and 38 seconds, stage separation occurring six seconds later at T+ 2 minutes and 44 seconds, followed by launch the second stage at T+ 2 minutes and 46 seconds.

The two fairing halves protecting the payload during launch then separate at T+ 3 minutes and 14 seconds, exposing the payload to the vacuum of space for the first time.

The second stage burns for seven minutes until Second Engine Shutdown (SECO) at T+ 9 minutes and 46 seconds. The first payload will nominally be launched at T+ 12 minutes and 31 seconds, followed by the second launch at T= 14 minutes and 10 seconds.

The RS1 launch vehicle is a two-stage rocket, with the first stage powered by nine sea-level E2 engines and the second stage powered by a vacuum-optimized E2 engine. With a core diameter of 1.8 m (6 ft) and a height of 88 ft when fully integrated, it is only 2.2 m (7 ft) shorter than Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha launch vehicle.

RS1 was built to fit in standard shipping containers and is similar to Astra’s now-decommissioned Rocket 3, with the only requirements for launch being ISO shipping container truck access and a flat concrete slab.

The planned ground route for RS1 Demo-1. (Image credit: ABL Space Systems)

Designed to accommodate the flexibility that comes with the ability to launch from anywhere in the world, GS0, ABL’s ground system, requires only a 150ft by 50ft pad. Also built into shipping containers, ABL could support an LP-3C launch from Kodiak, Alaska, and then pack the containers and ship them to Cape Canaveral to support another launch, eliminating the need for fixed infrastructure at a launch pad.

RS1 can use multiple fuels for its E2 engine, namely both RP-1 and Jet-A kerosene, the latter of which is widely used at aerodromes worldwide, and a single oxidizer, liquid oxygen (LOX).

The E2 engine is a gas generator engine producing 58.32 kN (12,100 lbf) of thrust with nine first stage engines producing a total of 529.11 kN (133,118 lbf) of thrust. The first stage is similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Rocket Lab’s Electron, and Relativity Space’s Terran 1. Continuing the similarities, the RS1 second stage uses a single, vacuum-optimized version of the E2, producing 13,000 lbf (57.82 kN) of thrust.

Founded in 2017, ABL is now based in El Segundo, California with four major facilities along the West Coast.

The El Segundo campus houses design and manufacturing facilities and assembly areas for RS1 and GS0. Facilities are highly verticalized, with everything from switchboards to turbomachinery manufactured in-house, allowing tight control over schedules and costs.

RS1 horizontal on LP-3C together with the GS0 floor system. (Image credit: ABL Space Systems)

ABL’s largest facility is located in the Port of Long Beach, spanning 8 acres of land and 1.31 acres of underwater land at the Navy Mole at Pier T. In port, ABL conducts a wide range of operations, namely vehicle processing, payload integration and maritime operations Support for the various global launch facilities that ABL can launch from.

The other major facilities that ABL operates are two test facilities in the Mojave Desert. Since 2019, the Edwards site has focused on advanced R&D and operations that enable responsive go-to-market. The test facilities can test E2 engines, launch equipment and even integrated stages.

In April 2021, Lockheed Martin and ABL announced that Lockheed had purchased 26 launches on the RS1 from ABL through 2025, with the option for up to 32 more launches through 2029.

In a press release, Lockheed Martin Space executive vice president said, “This secured access to space will accelerate our ability to demonstrate the spacecraft and associated payload technologies we are developing to meet future mission requirements for our customers.”

While ABL did not comment on the financial terms of the contract, the $12 million price tag for an RS1 launch brings the deal to almost $700 million over eight years if Lockheed Martin decides to exercise the option for the 32 additional launches .

Personnel pose in front of the encapsulated Demo-1 payload. (Image credit: ABL Space Systems)

Another contract ABL received was a contract with the United States Space Force to demonstrate responsive launching. The CEO of ABL said the following about the contract: “We have a contract with Space Force to demonstrate some of this activity on the ground, where we work with them to get a rocket vertical and see how fast we fill it and prepare for take-off operations.”

“Fast call times are great business for what we do and we have a number of concepts for the Department of Defense that will allow you to store RS1s on base to be ready for that fast call time.”

Ahead of RS1’s debut launch, ABL is preparing for a second launch, with no earlier than November 15, 2022 seeking FCC approval for another launch. This second launch will most likely not follow as closely behind the first attempt, but RS1’s first launch was originally scheduled for early September, possibly indicating that ABL believed it was ready for a second launch in just a few months.

It appears to be a mission identical to DEMO-1, with the vehicle again flying into a 200km x 350km orbit before deploying two 6U CubeSats.

ABL was also contracted to launch two test satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, but the test satellites have since been deployed for the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. It’s unclear why the satellites were moved, but Amazon has said it will keep two launches, ABL and RS1, for future missions.

(Main photo: RS1 vertical at LP-3C at Kodiak. Photo credit: ABL Space Systems)

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