AFRL, ABL Space Systems demonstrate rapid operation of launch systems

  • Published
  • By Joy Alich
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, and ABL Space Systems are collaborating to demonstrate how launch systems can be operated rapidly by small teams from nontraditional sites. Leveraging ABL’s deployable ground system, GS0, and small launch vehicle, RS1, a series of ground demonstrations is underway at multiple U.S. military installations aimed at quickly training participants to activate GS0 and simulate the run-up to an orbital launch. 
ABL and AFRL partnered with operators from the 2nd Space Launch Squadron and 412th Test Wing to conduct the first demonstration activity. The complete test campaign, from training to full operations with cryogenic rocket propellants, was accomplished in a few days. In doing so, ABL and partners successfully determined the minimum resources to activate GS0 and validated the strong training base and capability of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force active-duty personnel for conducting liquid rocket concept of operations and fielding of novel deployable systems. 
“The ability to control, exploit and access the space domain is vital for our nation,” said Dr. Shawn Phillips, chief of AFRL’s Rocket Propulsion Division. “Space launch must be dynamic, responsive and provide the ability to rapidly augment or reconstitute capability gaps. ABL’s RS1 and GS0 systems provide a uniquely flexible capability to provide warfighters the ability to accomplish these objectives by conducting orbital launch operations at any time, at any location desired.”
While traditional launch operations are planned months or years in advance, ABL is working to demonstrate systems that can ready a new orbital launch site from any flat concrete pad in under 24 hours with a small team of personnel. While the launch status quo requires significant investments in fixed infrastructure, ABL’s systems, which are packaged into standard shipping containers, require no lifting equipment to operate. AFRL is testing the self-sufficiency of these systems, conducting experiments and evaluating how quickly skilled operators can be trained to operate them. 
Through AFWERX, part of the AFRL, this demonstration campaign has brought together players from across the national security space enterprise including acquisition, science, technology, and operations. These diverse perspectives ensure capabilities under development can best support next-generation missions. 
“We optimize RS1 and GS0 for lean operations,” said Dan Piemont, ABL co-founder and president. “We’re exploring how this flexibility can provide unique value to the Department of Defense. “As space becomes more contested and competitive, new mission profiles will emerge, and we must be able to adapt to their needs on a relevant timeline without introducing prohibitive cost.”
ABL and partners are gearing up for a second demonstration activity in the coming months, which seeks to expand operational realism by incorporating additional elements and operations. The second demo will include live deployment of GS0 mobile launch infrastructure as well as integration of RS1 launch vehicle operations. Systems will arrive at a simple site with a concrete pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. 
Newly trained operators will activate the support systems, raise a vehicle stage using ABL’s deployable launch mount; complete propellant loading; perform a countdown to launch; simulate scrubbing; and reestablish a safe pad state. These activities are critical to demonstrating the feasibility of rapid launch operations; refining operational concepts; identifying technical challenges; and increasing the technology readiness level for a DOD responsive and resilient launch capability.
About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit:
The AFRL Rocket Propulsion Division has played a key role in advancing rocket engine technologies for the nation since 1952. AFRL has been a prominent player in nearly every liquid rocket engine developed and flown by the United States.