The second stage of a Rocket Lab Electron rocket with seven small satellites was faulty after launching from New Zealand on Saturday, suddenly slowing and losing altitude. The company confirmed that the vehicle and its payloads had been lost, but there was no indication of what went wrong.
“We lost the flight late in the mission,” tweeted CEO Peter Beck. “I’m incredibly sorry we didn’t ship satellites to our customers today. Rest assured, we’ll find the problem, fix it, and be back on the pad soon.”
Rocket Lab’s innovative electronic starter with 3D-printed motors and battery-powered fuel pumps is designed to get small satellites into orbit close to Earth at a relatively low cost and to provide payloads that might otherwise have to wait for more expensive ones to access space Booster.
The rocket fired on Saturday made the company’s 13th flight. It carried an experimental imaging satellite built by Canon, five Earth observation satellites “SuperDove” from Planet and a small technology demonstration satellite from the British company In-Space Missions.
The electron shot off at 5:19 p.m. EDT from Rocket Lab’s scenic launch site on the rocky coast of the Mahia Peninsula. The nine Rutherford engines that power the first stage operated normally and drove the rocket out of the lower atmosphere. The second stage with a single vacuum-optimized motor then took over.
About five minutes and 41 seconds after the launch, the telemetry provided by Rocket Lab, along with the company’s video from cameras on the rocket, showed that the speed of the stage peaked at about 8.509 mph at an altitude of about 119 miles reached and then started dropping.
The altitude continued to increase for another 26 seconds and reached 121 miles before decreasing. Rocket Lab ended its webcast a few minutes later with no comment on telemetry or the outcome of the mission. But Beck confirmed the loss of the mission a few minutes later.
Rocket Lab, founded in New Zealand and headquartered in Long Beach, California, launched its first electron in 2017. The flight was canceled after a loss of telemetry, but the booster was functioning normally at this point. The loss on Saturday was the company’s second electron failure in 13 flights.
Spaceflight, a ridesharing company, including Canon’s launch on Saturday, said in a statement: “We are obviously disappointed, but at the same time we are always aware that launch errors are part of the space business.”
“We will work closely with Rocket Lab and our customer Canon Electronics, who had their CE-SAT-IB imaging satellite on board to figure out the next steps. However, we are unwavering in our determination to launch our customers into space. Ours Hearts go to all the teams that have worked so hard on this mission. “
A statement from Planet expressed support for Rocket Lab.
“Although it is never the result we hope for, the risk of a mistake is one that Planet is always prepared for,” the company said on its website. “We already have 26 SuperDoves … to be launched on an (Arianespace) Vega rocket later this summer, and several more launches over the next 12 months are on the program.”
“We firmly believe that Rocket Lab will be able to get back from today’s outage in no time, and we look forward to flying with the Electron again,” added Planet.
Finally In-Space tweeted that his team was “totally disappointed with this news. Two years of hard work by an incredibly dedicated group of brilliant engineers in Rauch. It was really a very cool little spaceship.”