ABL Space Systems Co. has completed integrated stage testing of the RS1 small satellite launch vehicle. Testing on the RS1 second stage used the in-house designed E2 liquid rocket engine at Edwards Air Force Base. Critical aspects the campaign included propellant tank handling, operating pressurant management systems, and refining the stage arming and engine startup sequences, all of which were accomplished successfully. This test campaign builds on the successes of 18 months of extensive component, engine, and stage testing.
"Every day we are humbled by our goal to raise the standard for rapid, efficient launch vehicle development," said Dan Piemont, ABL founder and president. "Folks who know orbital launch know that integrated stage testing is the first real proof of capability. To get here in just three years with under 75 people validates the advantages of our approach."
ABL manufactures engines and stages in state-of-the-art facilities in El Segundo, California. By staying highly verticalized and focusing on low-cost, scalable manufacturing processes, ABL delivers industry leading capability and pricing to the small satellite community. RS1 can deliver one metric ton to sun synchronous orbit, 400kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit, and 250kg to lunar injection orbit.
"Simplicity is key," said Harry O'Hanley, ABL founder and CEO. "Our company is just over three years old. Yet, we've moved markedly faster and been more capital efficient than others because we avoid exotic, unproven architectures and manufacturing processes. Unless an innovation adds measurable value to our customer, we do not pursue it."
ABL will continue performing stage test operations at Edwards Air Force Base in the coming weeks to accumulate additional run time on the engine and stage. The launch vehicle system will undergo a series of stress tests to demonstrate performance in a variety of different flight conditions. RS1 is scheduled for an initial launch in the first quarter of 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
In August 2020, ABL Space Systems was awarded two U.S. DOD contracts and secured a large round of funding with a combined value of more than $90 million. The Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX, with participation from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, awarded ABL $44.5 million across three years. Additionally, ABL secured $49 million of financing led by Ethan Batraski at Venrock with participation from New Science Ventures, Lynett Capital, and Lockheed Martin Ventures.
ABL has leased additional propulsion test facilities at Mojave Air and Space Port; expanded into a 60,000ft2 multi-facility campus in El Segundo to support full-scale production of the RS1 vehicle; received a signed Category 1 certification plan from NASA; and grown to a team of 80 engineers, designers, and production experts.