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Another new rocket startup, ABL Space, to launch its rocket in ’21

Capitalism in space: ABL Space, another one of the many startups attempting to enter the launch market using private investment capital, now predicts it will attempt its first orbital launch sometime before June of this year.

The company was formed by veterans of SpaceX and Wall Street, and uses that company’s philosophy of building as much of the rocket in-house as possible. That rocket is also more powerful than Rocket Lab’s, aiming for bigger payloads, and is designed with a very simple launchpad arrangement, so that it can launch from practically anywhere there is a concrete pad and do it quickly.

ABL now has about 105 employees, with about 90,000 square feet of space in several buildings in El Segundo, as well as testing facilities at Edwards Air Force Base and at Spaceport America in New Mexico. “We can build and ship a launch vehicle about every 30 days, based on infrastructure we have now,” Piemont said. “We’re tracking towards eight or nine [rockets] a year based on existing infrastructure.”

While ABL has significant contracts and relationships with the Pentagon, Piemont said the company’s customer pipeline is 60% private, or commercial, versus 40% government payloads. The company has customers lined up to launch payloads on its first few missions, although ABL may fly mass simulators, which are often a slab of concrete to represent a spacecraft’s weight, for the first RS1 launch.

By my count, this makes seven new rocket companies — Virgin Orbit, Firefly, Astra, Relativity Space, Aevum, ABL Space, and Blue Origin — all planning their inaugural launches in ’21. The competition for business thus should be very fierce, which is all to the good, as it will encourage these companies to all find ways to cut costs.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • V-Man

    Not reusable, I see. Still using the old “rockets as bullets, cheap and expendable” paradigm.

    Good luck — that window is closing fast.

  • Ray Van Dune

    V-man reminds me of something I have been wondering about… when or if the adoption of booster recovery will make it acceptable to launch on azimuths that overfly populated areas?

    Yes, some countries do that already, at least over their own populations. And reentry over your own populated regions seems to have been already tacitly accepted, but will Mexico go for landings from the SW to Boca Chica?

  • David Eastman

    The bottom of the linked article addresses reusability. It’s something that they’re considering, and they have ex SpaceX employees with useful experience and knowledge in that domain. But it does make sense as a startup, especially one in a hotly contested space, to focus on getting operational first and building your customer list, reputation, and revenue, before you start adding bells and whistles. I think at the small scale, light and medium launchers, reuse is going to need another generation of technical advances before it pays off. The lower costs of these smaller rockets, inclusive of materials, personnel, tooling, storage, etc, just doesn’t leave that much room for the big cost reductions SpaceX is seeing. Even for SpaceX, production rate was as big or bigger a driver for developing reuse as cost. Developing reuse so you can use a signle launcher 10 times is potentially safer for the company than expanding your facilities and staffing to produce ten times as many vehicles.

  • Nick B.

    Not technically relevent, but I find it interesting anyway — they’re actually set up in some of the original SpaceX buildings in El Segundo. Spiritual heritage in some sense, perhaps.

  • George C

    I have always wanted to launch rockets from Trinidad. The mobile launch system would be great for that. Small population but good school system. Low cost of living. Ample energy supplies.

  • Edward

    V-Man wrote: “Not reusable, I see. Still using the old “rockets as bullets, cheap and expendable” paradigm. Good luck — that window is closing fast.

    The window is closing, but not terribly fast. Reusability adds complications that national space agencies have not yet embraced. David Eastman is correct that it is more important to get into the market than it is to be as efficient as possible. This is usually the case in any industry, where getting started comes with costs that can be reduced or eliminated later. Convincing customers to buy from your company is a high priority. ABL Space does not yet need reusability to accomplish that objective.

    Eventually, we will find that starting business with reusable launch vehicles will be the paradigm, but right now no one has yet successfully done so. Blue Origin, with their New Shepard, and Virgin Galactic, with their SpaceShipTwo, are making that paradigm look difficult to perform. The reluctance of other companies and national space agencies to take on reusability also makes it look difficult.

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