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Aerojet-powered rocket fails in maiden flight in Hawaii

Aerojet Rocketdyne, whose headquarters and main manufacturing plant are in Rancho Cordova
Aerojet Rocketdyne, whose headquarters and main manufacturing plant are in Rancho Cordova Sacramento Bee file

An experimental rocket with engines built by Rancho Cordova’s Aerojet Rocketdyne failed its maiden flight Tuesday shortly after launch in Hawaii, according to the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

The 67-foot-long rocket was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai at 7:45 p.m. Pacific Standard Time but crashed less than a minute into the flight.

The missile systems center confirmed the failure in a brief post Tuesday on its Facebook page: “The ORS-4 mission on an experimental Super Strypi launch vehicle failed in mid-flight after liftoff at 5:45 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (Tuesday) from the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.”

Attempts to get comment from the center and Aerojet late Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

A “Super Strypi” rocket is touted as a low-cost, small satellite launcher. The three-stage, solid-fuel rocket was developed in part with the University of Hawaii.

There has been no determination on what caused the post-launch failure. Multiple satellites were on board the failed rocket.

Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. recently reported a $38.1 million quarterly loss, largely the result of a spectacular launch pad explosion in October 2014 that forced Aerojet to pay a hefty $50 million settlement to a key customer and prompted the end of a profitable supply contract.

Last year’s explosion of an unmanned Orbital Antares rocket occurred a few seconds after liftoff on Oct. 28, 2014, from a NASA launchpad in Virginia. The rocket, powered by an Aerojet AJ-26 engine, was supposed to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

In September this year, Aerojet disclosed it would pay $50 million to Orbital ATK Inc. to settle damages over the ill-fated launch. Aerojet also said the two companies had “mutually agreed” to sever their contract, in which Aerojet supplied refurbished Soviet-made AJ-26 rockets to Orbital.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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