UP Aerospace Rocket Payload Reached Only 8.5 Miles

 

UP Aerospace Spaceloft XL rocket lifts off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on May 2, 2009.
UP Aerospace Spaceloft XL rocket lifts off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on May 2, 2009.

Leonard David at Space.com reports that an incorrect flight parameter caused UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft XL rocket to fail during a launch from Spaceport America on Saturday:

“It turns out to be something simple…but with catastrophic results,” Larson explained. The inaccurate flight parameter prematurely set off a payload separation charge, he said, causing that section of the rocket to tumble through the air to roughly 45,000 feet [8.5 miles].

The wildly twisting payload section caused the attached nose cone to come apart, with a parachute system also tearing loose. That rocket section, purposely designed to enter a flat spin, fell onto the desert landscape at about 110 mph, Larson said, hitting broadside on the ground about four miles from the launch pad.

David reports that the booster climbed to 82,000 feet (15.5 miles), well short of the 369,600-foot (70-mile) target alitude that would have made the flight suborbital.

The payload section – consisting of student experiments and the ashes of 16 individuals – was recovered.  Officials are analyzing it to determine what data can be gleaned. Celestis, the Houston-based company that flew the remains, is promised loved ones a re-flight of the ashes.

Celestis has experienced failures in its last two attempts to place remains into space, and three times out of the last four. Last August, the company loaded the ashes of 203 individuals – including astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan – onto a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket. The payload ended up in the bottom of the Pacific after the launcher’s two stages collided after separation.