Landmark Australian rocket launch ends in flames

A landmark rocket launch from South Australia has ended in flames after its launch vehicle caught fire.

Adelaide space company Southern Launch on Thursday evening confirmed that the launch of Taiwanese company TiSPACE’s Hapith I rocket from the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex had failed.

The rocket and its launch site from above.

“During ignition, the launch vehicle suffered an internal fault causing the vehicle to catch alight,” the company said.

“The fire was contained to the launch pad and was attended to by the South Australian Country Fire Service, who were onsite

“No people or the environment were put at risk.”

It is unclear whether the 10-metre, two-stage rocket is recoverable from the fire.

A witness told the ABC they saw black smoke coming out from the rocket stand.

“And a few moments later there was a large bang and some white smoke went up and then later some steam,” the witness, who wasn’t named, said.

The launch was seen as a test of both companies’ capabilities and an important step for Australia’s space industry, marking the biggest domestic rocket launch in decades and the nation’s first major commercial rocket.

Launch of the rocket was twice attempted before Thursday, with the launch first delayed by unfavourable weather conditions last Friday.

Southern Launch and tiSPACE teams prepare for launch. Image: Supplied

A new launch window was approved for Wednesday, but one of the systems required to launch did not come online during the final steps prior to lift-off, causing yet another delay.

Earlier on Thursday, the Australian Space Agency approved another launch window for the rocket, which ultimately led to its third failed attempt to launch.

The outcome was to also be critical for Southern Launch’s plan to make the Whalers Way complex permanent. The Adelaide-based company has secured Australia’s only launch licences for the complex, 680km west of Adelaide, to conduct a test campaign for a permanent facility.

The company also needs to overcome opposition from local residents, traditional owners and conservationists about the impact of its facility, which is located in a pristine coastal environment.

Public and media were not able to attend the launch facility on either of the attempted launches, and Southern Launch said it would not be livestreaming the event.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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