August 4, 2021

The failure of a Chinese commercial rocket was caused by dropping foam insulation

2 min read

The disappearance of iSpace‘s Hyperbola-1 launch vehicle in the month of February was caused by an unruly bit of foam insulation, according to the company. On February 1, a four-stage Hyperbola-1 rocket launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center situated in the Gobi Desert, indicating the Hyperbola-1’s second release.

Shortly after blastoff, bystander video (since erased) emerged on the Chinese social media, indicating that the launcher had drastically veered off course. Hours later, the launch failure was officially confirmed. Regarding 28 days of examination and study, according to an iSpace media release dated March 1 (Chinese), the company had concluded fault position diagnosis, fault modeling, and forecasting, test validation and evaluation, and improvement steps.

As per iSpace, a slice of foam insulation meant to fall off the hit and obstructed one of the very first stage’s four grid fins. The insulation foam finally broke loose, forcing the grid fin to change the angle, followed by a sudden shift in attitude as well as fragmentation of the launch vehicle. The mission was lost on the same day as the Columbia tragedy, which happened 18 years ago. During the launch, a portion of foam insulation from Space Shuttle’s external tank broke off and destroyed a section of the Orbiter, resulting in tragedy on reentry.

The payloads missing on the flight were not disclosed in the iSpace media release, but a range of tiny satellites was believed to be on board. Soon after the deployment, Beijing Ark Space Technology Company Limited, a private space corporation, released a media release (in Chinese) denying that its Ark-2 satellite was on board. The former launch service agreement with iSpace had been peacefully terminated in December, according to the firm.

iSpace, headquartered, in Beijing plans to develop management and technological skills, boost quality awareness, enhance risk detection, and take other steps, according to the company. According to rumors, the firm is preparing a new Hyperbola-1 launch in the coming months.

Hyperbola-1 is made up of 3 solid stages and a fourth liquid-propellant phase. It measures 20.8 meters in length and weighs about 31 metric tons at departure. Three solid stages and a liquid-propellant fourth phase make up the rocket. Photos of the first as well as the second Hyperbola-1 rockets, on the other hand, indicate major design variations between the two releases.

Following unsuccessful attempts by fellow Chinese firms Landspace as well as Onespace in October 2018 as well as March 2019, the first Hyperbola-1 effectively launched a satellite in orbit in 2019 July, allowing iSpace, the very first nominally private company, to do so.

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