Storm wipes out planned SA rocket launch

The intense electrical storm which swept over South Australia on Saturday damaged the Kestrel 1 rocket and has resulted in the cancellation of a planned launch from near Port Lincoln.

The ATSpace experimental rocket was due to blast off from Southern Launch’s Whalers Way facility on southern Eyre Peninsula. 

Engineers are now removing the rocket from the site to assess the extent of electrical damage to the rocket.

High winds, heavy rains and thunderstorms lashed the remote Orbital Launch Complex before moving on to bring down trees and blacked out large segments of Adelaide and regional South Australia.

“The launch is scrubbed until further notice,” ATSPace CEO Dr Yen-Sen Chen said. “ATSpace will carry out thorough checks of the rocket system, and we will resume the launch campaign as soon as possible.”

Southern Launch says the prolonged nature of the electrical storm caused an electrical fault in the 10m wide, two-stage launch vehicle.

“We have infrastructure in place to manage electrical storm activity,” Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said in a statement. “The sheer volume of lightning strikes in the area was unprecedented and unfortunately caused damage to the vehicle.”

The vehicle must be removed from the launch pad for repairs. It’s hoped another launch will be attempted in the coming weeks.

The Kestrel I rocket isn’t intended to achieve orbit. But it can carry a payload beyond the atmosphere to a height of some 200km. After 10 minutes, the spent rocked and its cargo was destined to crash in the Southern Ocean.

A larger version of the rocket, Kestrel 5, can put small satellites into orbit. It’s hoped this design will be manufactured in Adelaide.

Southern Launch announced the establishment of the commercial rocket launch facility in December 1018, with the South Australian State Government granting the project major development status the following year.

The first attempted launch in September 2021 was unsuccessful as the Taiwanese TiSpace Hapith (Flying Squirrel) rocket caught fire on the ground. TiSpace has since established an Australian branch in Adelaide called ATSpace.

Southern Launch hopes to launch about 25 rockets each year once the site is fully operational. 

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