ABL Space Systems scores $60M for rapid response launch for defense customers

Launch startup ABL Space Systems has landed a $60 million contract to build out its “responsive launch” operational capacity, as part of the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Air Force Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program. The new funding, which equally matches government funding with private investment, comes as the company prepares for the second launch attempt of its RS1 rocket.

In a statement, ABL said that a key challenge with responsive space launches “is breaking from the assumption of a pre-defined orbit, trajectory, and launch site.” For such missions, the company said it would build new operational capacity for short-notice launches.

“We believe that operational flexibility is key to meeting the rapidly changing needs of our customers,” Eva Abramson, ABL’s head of strategic development, said in a statement. “This award will help us in further developing on-call launch capabilities to meet mission-driven payload, launch site and target orbit needs.”

The U.S. Space Force has made strides in recent years to expand its Tactically Responsive Space (TacRS) capabilities by working with private industry, and rocket startups in particular. Last October, the Space Force awarded Firefly Space a $17.6 million TacRS mission contract to launch this year. Under the terms of the agreement, the Space Force will give Firefly just 24 hours’ notice prior to launch.

This new funding will likely be a boon for ABL as it gears up to attempt to launch its RS1 small rocket for a second time from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. The company made its first launch attempt in January, but the rocket was destroyed after all nine engines on the first stage shut down simultaneously. The vehicle hit the launch pad, but no personnel were injured.

ABL has yet to announce the date of the next launch, but it's already eyeing up expansion: Earlier this month, the Space Force granted the company dedicated launch space at Launch Complex 15 in Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Base.