UPHAM, New Mexico (KVIA) - An UP Aerospace rocket, 20 feet tall and carrying a NASA payload, exploded moments after liftoff today. The unfortunate event not only affected the NASA TechRise Student Challenge payloads but also delayed a poignant tribute to the late NASA astronaut, Phillip K. Chapman, and chemist Louise Ann O’Deen.
The rocket was set to launch the cremated remains of Chapman, NASA's first Australian-born American astronaut, finally granting him his long-awaited journey to space.
Celestis, the company responsible for the space memorials, issued a statement about the launch's failure: “While the rocket was destroyed in flight, the care and professionalism of our launch service provider - Up Aerospace - ensured that the Celestis payload was unharmed and will be able to be relaunched. We choose each of our flight providers with care and while accidents occasionally occur (the most recent Celestis launch that did not complete it’s mission was 15 years ago), our Earth Rise Service missions are engineered so as to give us a great chance of recovery if the rocket does not reach space and return successfully. In this instance, that is exactly what happened."
Celestis assured that all participants of this flight would be launching on the next available Earth Rise Mission, named Perseverance.
Charles M. Chafer, Celestis Co-Founder and CEO, expressed confidence in UP Aerospace, stating, “We have full confidence that UP Aerospace will find and fix the problem, and we look forward to flying again with them when they are ready.”
The rocket also carried 13 payloads from NASA's TechRise Student Challenge, a competition that encourages teams of sixth to 12th-grade students to design, build, and launch experiments on commercial suborbital vehicles. A total of 117 payloads were selected as part of the TechRise challenges, with 13 of them aboard this ill-fated flight.
Christopher Baker, program executive for the Flight Opportunities program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, addressed the incident: "Despite the collective experience of the industry, today is another reminder of the many things that must go right on any spaceflight." He reassured that NASA will work with TechRise Challenge administrator Future Engineers, UP Aerospace, and the affected student payloads to determine potential paths forward.
Baker also noted that the four future flights carrying the remaining TechRise student payloads are not impacted by this event and will proceed as planned. Despite the disappointing outcome, he encouraged the student teams to be proud of their accomplishments and promised to work on future opportunities for them to see their experiments in space.