A failed rocket launch won’t stop Queensland tech company Gilmour Space Technologies from taking “technology risks” in its journey to a commercial launch next year, according to its founder.
Gilmour Space Technologies had planned to test One Vision, its proprietary orbital-class hybrid rocket engine and mobile launch capability in north-west Queensland earlier this week.
But just seven seconds before the planned launch, an “anomaly” caused the rocket’s pressure regulator to rupture, damaging the tank and rocket.
Due to the nature of the hybrid rocket engine there was no explosion because of the fault, and there were no injuries to the Gilmour launch personnel.
While the failed launch is “disappointing”, Gilmour Space Technologies co-founder Adam Gilmour said it would not set the company back in its plans to begin commercial orbital launches next year, and will serve as a “great learning journey”.
“We are very disappointed, as it was supposed to be a good technology and capability demonstration of the company,” Mr Gilmour told InnovationAus.com.
“Our company will always take risks to move fast – we won’t take any safety risks but we certainly will take technology risks.”
The space startup posted an update on the launch on its website on Wednesday morning, explaining what went wrong with the test.
It was meant to be the first launch in a series of trial runs before the public launch next year, with the nine metre rocket carrying payloads from universities in Australia and Singapore.
But seven seconds before the launch, the test rocket suffered an “anomaly” which led to the “premature end of the mission”, the company said. This was the result of the failure of a pressure regulator that was meant to control the flow of pressure into the oxidiser tank, causing damage to the tank and rocket.
The device had been purchased from a supplier in the US, and the company had been working on upgrading it before the test launch, Mr Gilmour said.
“This regulator failed and allowed too much pressure into the oxidiser tank, so it ruptured. We had tested the regulator many times in engine tests and other tests and it was working fine,” he said.
“The main design of the rocket is over two years old, when the company was a lot younger and had less experienced engineers. The new vehicle design is substantially different from One Vision, so the failed launch doesn’t put us back on the development of the Eris orbital vehicle.”
Eris is Gilmour’s launch vehicle that will be capable of delivering up to 450kg, with plans for its first orbital launch in 2021.
It’s not all bad news for the space company though, with its mobile launch platform and mission control centre successfully completing tests.
“The automatic ‘load and launch’ ground support system performed nominally through countdown, and went automatically into safe mode to dilute the oxidiser when the tank was compromised. With this mobile launch system, we have the capability to launch a light orbital vehicle from anywhere in Australia,” the company said.
While the event hasn’t set the company back on its future plans, it may make it more difficult to raise capital in the future, Mr Gilmour said.
“The main impact on the company is it will make my job harder to raise money in the short term, but we have a number of technology demonstrations ahead of us that will demonstrate our capability,” he said.
“My current investors are still very supportive and I really appreciate that.”
With the startup space sector growing rapidly lately, similar launch failures to this should be expected in the future, he said.
“Rocket failures are common all over the world as are satellites failures, so the Australian space industry will see many over the years ahead as more and more companies enter the field. Failures are common in the early life cycle of a space product, but over time the reliability increases dramatically,” Mr Gilmour said.