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.