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Private U.S.-space company ABL fails to launch from Alaska

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Private space company ABL said its effort to put satellites into low-earth orbit failed and its launchpad in Alaska was destroyed. Photo courtesy of ABL.

Private space company ABL said its effort to put satellites into low-earth orbit failed and its launchpad in Alaska was destroyed. Photo courtesy of ABL.

Jan. 11 (UPI) — An effort to put a satellite launcher into low-Earth orbit from Alaska’s Kodiak Island fell short of expectations and failed after the rocket crashed back to the launch pad, destroying the facility completely, private U.S. company ABL Space Systems said.

The ABL RS1 lifted off from its Kodiak Island launchpad mid-afternoon Alaska time on Tuesday. The company said through its official Twitter account that it experienced an “anomaly” about 20 minutes after liftoff.

Later, ABL said that all of the first-stage engines shut down at the same time, causing the rocket to crash back down to the launch pad.

“As expected in this scenario, there is damage to the launch facility,” the company said on Twitter. “All personnel are safe, and fires have subsided. We’ll plan our return to flight after investigations are complete. “

ABL is joining a growing list of private companies working to get into the space race. Elon Musk’s SpaceX program is sending the Starlink satellite constellation into space and delivering supplies to the International Space Station, while government-based agencies focus their attention on Mars.

SpaceX on Wednesday confirmed its unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Florida after returning from the ISS intact. But Virgin Orbit’s efforts to send nine satellites to orbit by hitching a ride on a modified Boeing 747-400 nicknamed “Cosmic Girl” failed to achieve success after its Monday launch attempt from Britain.

Like ABL, Virgin Orbit said an “anomaly” prevented the satellites from sustaining orbit. The U.S.-based company started preparations for its Alaska launch in September, though it’s faced setbacks since.

In November, it lauded a “flawless day of operations” on an initial launch attempt, that is until a valve on a fuel system failed, causing a leak of helium and scrubbing the mission.

Founded in 2017, ABL says its expendable rocket system can carry a payload of up to 2,970 pounds into low-Earth orbit.

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