Researchers at the Andøya Rakettskytefelt in northern Norway, which claims to have been launching rockets for 50 years, were chastened and confused after a launch on Wednesday ended in total fiasco.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the relatively routine launch of the nine-meter-long, 1.8-ton rocket fizzled indeed, when it abruptly nosedived into the sea just a few hundred meters from houses in the island’s town of Andenes. With it sunk around NOK 77 million worth of investment.
For photos, see NRK’s coverage here (external link, in Norwegian).
No one seems to know what went wrong. “More than 1,000 rockets have been launched off our pad,” Kjell Bøen, leder of the rocket and balloon division at the Andøya launching pad told NRK. “We have never experienced something going so completely wrong.”
He claimed that the rocket that wound up in the water has been “a real workhorse for rocket research in Europe. It was good and stable, and it’s a mystery that this happened. But we have faith we’ll find out.”
A commission has been set up on Andøya to find some answers. Bøen said one of the rocket motors had already been retrieved “and the plan is to gather all the rocket parts, so we can go through all the material.”
The rocket belonged to the University of Queensland in Australia. University officials didn’t hide their disappointment over the failed rocket launch and they’re now ending their Scramspace project on Andøya. Professor Russell Boyce, director of the project, said it was nonetheless most important that no one was injured in the failed launch.
The project, according to Bøen, was meant “to study ramjet technology,” which he described as “a special jet motor principle that can be used in space at very high speeds.” He said such rocket motors can be used, for example, to launch future satellites.
Local residents on Andøya were suddenly worrying about the safety of the rocket launching that’s been going on in their midst for decades. “I think they can be assured,” Bøen said. “As I said, we have never experienced anything like this before and our launchings are carried out in accordance with extremely strong safety measures.”