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Rocket launch fails: Why University of Hawaii sees success

It's too soon to tell what caused the rocket carrying a University of Hawaii-made satellite to tumble back to Earth. Why some see success anyway. 

Hawaii’s first satellite launch failed Tuesday, shortly after blasting off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

The launch, originally scheduled for Oct. 2013, was broadcast live. Video shows the satellite spiraling upward before tumbling just minutes later. The 67-foot, $45 million Super Strypi mission, named ORS-4 was intended to deliver payloads to low-Earth orbit economically.

According the the US Government Accountability Office, “the Pentagon has historically relied on medium and heavy launch vehicles to place national security space payloads into orbit, which typically takes two to three years from initial order to launch date,” reported the Honolulu Star Advertiser. But the Pentagon is interested in a method to quickly replenish satellites, particularly as competition from other countries gains strength.

The ORS-4 mission was meant to set the bar for low-cost small satellite launches below $20 million, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, told the Honolulu paper.

“Without a complex and costly guidance system, the [Super Strypi] launch aims to demonstrate a concept that cuts preparation and processing time from months to weeks, thereby slashing the cost of launching small satellites into orbit,” according to Aerojet Rocketdyne, supplier of the three-stage propulsion system.

The University of Hawaii, a key partner in the launch along with Sandia National Laboratories, the Pacific Missile Range Facility, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, is investigating the failure. It is not yet clear what caused the rocket to tumble back to Earth, but those involved do state the flight “represented the largest propulsion system ever launched from a rail system.”

While the initial goal was for Super Strypi to become a dedicated small satellite launcher in the commercial industry, it’s yet to be determined how long the failed launch will set back the project.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the launch, the University of Hawaii considers the project to be a success, university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl told Hawaii News Now.

"What happened today, this is a tremendous success for the University of Hawaii, Mr. Meisenzahl said. "We had a bout 150 students doing work on this program. They built a satellite, it met every milestone and passed every test. And they delivered it on time. I know people will think of this as a failure. This is not a failure. This is a tremendous step forward." 

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