November 4, 2015 / 9:11 PM / 4 years ago

Aerojet small satellite launcher fails its first flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov 4 (Reuters) - An experimental rocket built by Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc failed its debut flight, a setback for a U.S. military initiative to develop a low-cost, on-demand small satellite launcher, officials said on Wednesday.

The 67-foot-tall (21 meter) Super Strypi rocket shot off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii at 5:45 p.m. local time on Tuesday (0345 GMT Wednesday). The fin-guided rocket, which launches off a steerable rail, failed less than a minute after liftoff, the Air Force said.

The mission was part of a broader U.S. military initiative to develop low-cost, quick-turnaround launch services for small satellites.

The three-stage, solid-fuel Super Strypi was developed in partnership by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, the University of Hawaii and Aerojet.

It was designed to launch payloads weighing as much as 660 pounds (300 kg) into orbits as high as 295 miles (475 km) above Earth. The Air Force hoped production costs would be less than $15 million per vehicle.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last week found that none of the military’s programs to demonstrate launch-on-need services is ready to move from development and testing into production.

Several commercial companies also are working on low-cost small launchers, with an eye toward flying and replenishing planned networks of remote sensing, communications and weather forecasting satellites under development by Planet Labs, OneWeb, SpaceX, BlackSky Global, UrtheCast, Spire, Google’s Skybox Imaging and other firms.

Companies working on small satellite launchers include Virgin Group’s Virgin Galactic, Firefly Space Systems, Rocket Labs, the Paul Allen-backed Stratolaunch Systems and Spain’s zero2infinity.

The accident, which will be formally investigated, destroyed a 122-pound (55 kg) Earth observation research satellite built by the University of Hawaii and 12 shoebox-sized experimental satellites known as CubeSats that were backed by NASA and several universities. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Joseph White and Leslie Adler)

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