- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
Gilmour Space Booster Suffers Anomaly During Launch Attempt
Letter from CEO Adam Gilmour
On Monday July 29, Gilmour Space Technologies attempted to launch our ‘One Vision’ suborbital rocket to flight test the company’s proprietary 80 kN orbital-class hybrid rocket engine and demonstrate our mobile launch capability.
At T-7 seconds to launch, the test rocket suffered an anomaly that resulted in the premature end of the mission. Initial investigations show that a pressure regulator in the oxidiser tank had failed to maintain the required pressure, and this caused the upper half of the rocket to be ejected as helium escaped.
On the positive side, there were no explosions due to the safe nature of hybrid rocket engines, and no observable damage to the engine. (The white plume seen here is steam.)
Moreover, despite failure to launch, the team did successfully test Gilmour Space’s mobile launch platform and mission control centre, which had journeyed over 1,800 km to the test site.
The automatic ‘load-and-launch’ ground support system performed nominally through countdown, and switched automatically into safe mode to dilute the oxidiser when the tank was compromised.
With this mobile launch system, we would have the capability to launch a light orbital vehicle from anywhere in Australia.
Importantly, our team is safe though understandably disappointed not to have completed the mission. As it was a third-party instrument that failed, we will be following up on the matter with them. Whatever the case, rocket engineering is all about testing, failing, learning and rebuilding. One Vision was a development and test hybrid rocket, and our learnings from here have already informed many of the design features in our next vehicle.
Gilmour Space will now look to launch an enhanced version of this suborbital rocket in the near future, and test more of the technologies we will require for our orbital launches.
We appreciate your continued support as we work to build a safe and reliable road to space for the next generation of small satellites in LEO.
And to our team who worked tirelessly on One Vision, we are proud of the amazing work you have done so far, and look forward to achieving more and greater things together.
To the stars.
9 responses to “Gilmour Space Booster Suffers Anomaly During Launch Attempt”
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“Safe nature of hybrid rocket engines” Now where have we heard that before…
Salient point. But at least no launching of humans seems to contemplated.
Gilmour is even cagier than VG about its hybrid engine tech. Their fuel grain is 3-D printed – about which fact Gilmour makes a big noise – but the formula is proprietary and there isn’t even any certainty, outside the company, as to just what their oxidizer is. The company’s website is silent on the subject. Elsewhere, I’ve found dueling sources. Some claim Gilmour uses H2O2. Others are just as firm in their notion that it’s NO2.
Tough break, but, having spotted Middle Earth such a long lead, catching back up was always going to be a lengthy stern chase for Oz anyway. Gotta expect a few bumps along the road even when it’s Yellow Brick.
Then there is the barrier to space commerce in Australia that no one is talking about. As s Moon Agreement nation they are required to share their technology and revenue with all the other Moon Agreement nations.
Yeah, I’d forgotten about Australia having acceded to that mess.
But, as near as I can determine, there has been nothing yet set up under the Moon Treaty corresponding to the International Seabed Authority under the Law of the Sea Treaty. The ISA, since 1994, no longer seems to require technology transfers and further requires any transfers made to be on commercial terms and with IP protections. Given that there has yet to be any actual seabed mining undertaken, even the changes of 1994 have yet to be exercised in practice.
That certainly isn’t to say that the Moon Treaty doesn’t represent potential risks. The fact that the Moon Treaty has, as yet, produced no mechanisms of implementation and no rules pursuant thereto means these lacunae have somewhat the status of “Here Be Dragons” notations on ancient maps and charts. Literally anything might materialize in future from the socialistic and kleptocratic mentalities that dominate the U.N.
Simply the development of a launch services industry in Oz wouldn’t seem to have any implications under the Moon Treaty. It’s when, and if, Australia and any of the other real countries that have signed or acceded to the Moon Treaty actually get involved in activities that affect extra-terrestrial places and resources that things might get ugly. That’s a ways off yet. Still, it would behoove nations that signed or acceded to formally withdraw from the Moon Treaty before it has a chance to pinch.
From the standpoint of allegedly superior hybrid rocket safety, I’m not sure it makes much difference. NO2 is known to be capable of autologous deflagration as Scaled Composites learned to its considerable cost a dozen years ago. H2O2, for it’s part, is exothermic when it decomposes and can, in essence, deflagrate too, especially given that there are many things besides a silver catalyst that can initiate the process. That could well be what was behind Gilmour’s failure if they do, in fact, use H2O2.
I was a buyer of the horse puckey about hybrid intrinsic safety, too – until 2007.
Good point about the pressure. I was at a conference in the early 2000s when hybrids came up. One of us talked about how safe they were and Jeff Greason explained a couple of things. High pressures in a tank that lets go is quite dangerous even with no combustion or detonation. Any that doubt should look into the steam boiler explosions that were fairly common in the 19th century. Also the hybrid combustion chamber can do the same with considerable energy if a sufficiently large chunk of the fuel grain fails and blocks the throat even momentarily.
Potential mono-propellants weren’t even part of the discussion as I recall.
Sorry for the oopsie on the formula.
But the dangers of a given oxidizer are pretty much a constant regardless of the rest of the associated rocket system. In order for hybrids to be intrinsically safer, it would have to be established that their fuel grains are significantly “safer,” in some quantifiable sense, than are liquid fuels. It is hardly obvious, a priori, that such is the case.
I agree that the 2007 accident was the result of stupidity. No engine should ever have anything flowed through it without all personnel being under cover.
Hybrid fuel grains can be ignited and burn with just atmospheric oxygen the same as liquid fuels. I’ll take your word about your subjective level of comfort anent hybrids vs. liquids, but there’s no objective basis for your feeling.