LONG BEACH, CALIF. — If you read music publications, you might be forgiven for believing there’s been a major milestone in space commercialization. “On Saturday, March 29th, at a ‘remote High Desert location in California,’ the album was loaded onto the ‘experimental Cube Satellite’ Sat-JF14 and blasted into the great beyond onboard Interorbital Systems’ NEPTUNE Modular Rocket,” Rolling Stone reported March 31, referring to a new album by John Frusciante, a former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “John Frusciante’s ‘Enclosure’ Album Is Streaming From Space,” proclaimed the headline of an article by SPIN on Monday.
Both publications got their news from a statement by Frusciante posted on his website that said that the satellite in question was “launched into space aboard an Interorbital Systems’ NEPTUNE Modular Rocket” on March 29. It also advertised an app that claims to track the satellite. “When Sat-JF14 hovers over a users’ geographic region, ENCLOSURE will be unlocked, allowing users to listen to the album for free on any iOS or Android mobile device,” his statement claims.
So, is there really a Sat-JF14 orbiting Earth, broadcasting a rock musician’s latest album? Well, there was a launch March 29 from Mojave, Calif., by Interorbital Systems, the company announced. The company’s Common Propulsion Module Test Vehicle (CPM TV), powered by a 7,500-pound-force engine, lifted off from the Friends of Amateur Rocketry test site in the Mojave. Included in the rocket’s payloads was one for Frusciante.
The catch? Experimental Cube Satellite Sat-JF14, or whatever Frusciante’s payload was on that rocket, is not in orbit, nor was it even intended to be in orbit. “Due to a center of pressure anomaly, the rocket reached 10,000 feet, which was half of its calculated altitude,” the Interorbital statement notes. “The rocket’s health and recovery system adapted to the problem and returned the rocket and its payloads safely to the ground.” In other words, anyone listening to his album using that smartphone app while on a commercial airliner are several times higher above the ground than the “satellite” ever reached.
Setting Frusciante’s satellite claims aside, the launch was a major step forward for Interorbital, which in the last couple of years had limited its testing to static engine tests. The company is still planning to develop the NEPTUNE orbital launch system, although it didn’t indicate a schedule in its release for future tests, suborbital or orbital, for that rocket. As recently as last August, the company said it was planning to launch nearly 60 small satellites into orbit on a NEPTUNE in 2014, so it needs to keep making progress if it has any shot of achieving that goal.
This article originally appeared on New Space Journal.