Published: 21. September 2013 by: Trond Abrahamsen

Press Release: Rocket Motor Problem During Launch

Motor problems in the first stage of a rocket launched from the Andøya Rocket Range led to the scramjet flight experiment part of the SCRAMSPACE research project being unable to take place. All launches with this type of motor are now suspended, and an international Failure Investigation Board has been appointed to find the cause of the incident.

The range can confirm that the SCRAMSPACE payload functioned as it should, and was in no way connected with the failure of the rocket.

On Wednesday, 18 September 2013 at 15:18 hours (CET) the Australian SSCRAMSPACE scramjet flight experiment was launched at the Andøya Rocket Range. The SCRAMSPACE project, led by The University of Queensland and involving 12 other international groups, aims to test the future potential of scramjet motor technology. The project has a total budget of about NOK 77 million (€9.6 million), including all development and personnel costs associated with both the ground-based and flight-based research.

The rocket launched was a two-stage configuration having an S-30 first stage and an Improved Orion second stage. According to the flight plan, the first stage was to land in water about 18 km northwest of Andenes. The second stage was to attain an altitude of more than 300 km and land in water 250 km northwest of Andenes.

The rocket strayed off course and had an unstable ascent. This was due to an unexpected event during ignition in the first stage motor early in the flight. The first stage motor landed in water at Moholmen, and the second stage motor and payload landed in water a few hundred meters northwest of the Andenes lighthouse. The Range telemetry antennas tracked the flight of the payload and consequently acquired data from the flight until contact was lost at an altitude of 383 meters before landing in the water. The scramjet payload functioned as it should and was not connected or responsible for the rocket motor fault. All systems on the payload were intact and functioning throughout the flight. The Australian managers of the project concluded that it had been technologically successful, though scientific expectations were not fulfilled because the flight did not proceed as planned.

Apparently the cause was a fault in the first stage thruster that occurred in ignition during the first phase of the flight. This rocket configuration has been much used in sounding rockets, as by Sweden (at the Esrange at Kiruna), Norway, Germany and Brazil. In recent years there have been many launches of rockets with the configuration from Andøya. There have been no previous accidents or problems with the configuration.

An international Failure Investigation Board has been appointed with members from Norway, Germany, Australia and Brazil. One of the tasks of this board is to determine the cause of the failure of the rocket motor. Until further notice, all launches using this motor have been suspended.

The Andøya Rocket Range has recovered the motor and the payload from the sea, and will retrieve the other motor early next week. The Failure Investigation Board‘s tasks include inspecting these parts of the rocket and payload.

For further information, please contact:

Kjell Bøen,
Head of Sounding Rocket and Balloon Division, Andøya Rocket Range
Tel: (+47) 907 87 686
E-mail: kjell@rocketrange.no