The Aloha state’s first launch of a rocket carrying a payload intended for Earth orbit was a bust, and that has Aerojet Rocketdyne weathering yet another piece of unfortunate news.
The Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based company helped develop the U.S. Air Force’s experimental Super Strypi, which suffered a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” — translation: explosion — soon after its launch from an historic missile range in Kawaii, Hawaii.
Cause of the mission failure may not emerge until findings are released from an Air Force investigation.
“The ORS-4 mission on an experimental Super Strypi launch vehicle failed in mid-flight shortly after liftoff at 5:45 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (7:45 p.m. PST on Nov. 3),” the Air Force said in a brief statement posted to social media.
The test launch — originally scheduled for 2013 but repeatedly delayed — was the first ever launch of an orbital rocket from Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kawaii.
Aerojet led the design and fabrication work on the Super Strypi, which was developed as a lower-cost orbital rocket but is based on older military technology. The 67-foot rocket launches at an angle rather than by conventional vertical means, aiming to avoid the need for a costly guidance system.
The $45 million rocket was carrying 13 miniature satellites for NASA and customers including the University of Hawaii.
Aerojet, which declined comment on the mission failure, has been navigating a rough business patch in recent months.
The aerospace and defense contractor recently posted a broadened third-quarter loss of $38.1 million tied to the settlement of a legal dispute involving a previous — and much higher-profile — rocket explosion. Aerojet agreed in September to pay $50 million to settle claims by Orbital ATK in the aftermath of the explosion of an Orbital Antares rocket on Oct. 28, 2014.
Also in September, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, rebuffed Aerojet’s $2 billion takeover offer. There were initial indications a sweetened second bid was planned, but nothing has materialized.
Soon after the bid was rejected, UAL named Orbital the sole provider of solid rocket boosters for ULA’s Atlas V and Vulcan launch vehicles, replacing Aerojet on the Atlas work.