Updated 18:15 Eastern.
WASHINGTON – A rocket lab’s rocket failed to reach orbit during a July 4 launch following a problem during the rocket’s second stage.
The electron rocket lifted from the company’s launch complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 17:19 east. The launch was originally scheduled for July 3, but pushed back two days due to bad weather in the forecast, just because the company would postpone launch to July 4 based on a weather review.
The first phases of the launch seemed to go as planned, although the vehicle’s passing through “max-q” or maximum dynamic pressure appeared to be rougher than seen in previous launches. Onboard video taken shortly before separation in the first stage showed material that seemed to scale from the rocket, although it was not clear if it was just a decal applied to the rocket or something more significant.
The rocket on-board video froze about five minutes and 45 seconds after lifting, or three minutes into the second̵
Telemetry from the rocket, shown on the webcast, showed that the altitude of the rocket fell from about 194 kilometers to less than 165 kilometers for about 90 seconds before that information was removed from the screen. The company ended the webcast 11 minutes after the liftoff, two minutes after the rocket’s second stage should have been shut down and the kick stage, with its payload of seven satellites, was deployed.
“A problem was experienced today during the launch of Rocket Lab which caused the loss of the vehicle. We are deeply sorry for the customers aboard Electron, ”the company tweeted about 25 minutes after the lift. “The issue occurred late in the flight during the second stage. More information will be provided as it becomes available. “
“We lost the flight late into the mission. I am extremely sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today, “Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, tweeted after the failure. “Be sure we will find the problem, correct it and be back on the pad soon.”
The launch was the 13th for the Electron rocket. The vehicle had 11 successful launches in succession after the rocket launch’s initial launch in May 2017 due to a telemetry issue that included area safety systems, and not a problem with the rocket itself.
The primary payload for the launch was CE-SAT-1B, a 67-kilogram image satellite built by Canon Electronics, whose launch was arranged by Spaceflight Inc. The satellite, which could capture images at a resolution of 90 centimeters, was intended to show the spaceship’s technologies as the company prepared mass production of similar satellites.
“This launch is very critical for Canon Electronics because we are launching a satellite where we have significantly increased the ratio of internal component development compared to the previous launch,” Nobutada Sako, CEO of Satellite Systems Lab at Canon Electronics said in a release prior to launch . Canon launched a similar satellite, CE-SAT-1, 2017.
The rocket carried five SuperDove imaging cubes developed by Planet. These satellites are upgraded versions of its original cubic water Dove line, with additional spectral bands to support geospatial applications in fields such as architecture.
The seventh satellite on Electron was Faraday-1, a six-unit cube set developed by the British start-up In-Space Missions. The satellite is the first in a series of companies designed to carry host payloads. Faraday-1 included payloads for several customers such as Airbus Defense and Space, which flew a payload called Prometheus 1 to test a reprogrammable software-defined radio.
This assignment, called “Pics or It Didn’t Happen” by Rocket Lab, included the shortest wait time between Electron assignments so far. The previous Electron launch, which carried three national reconnaissance office satellites and kits for US and Australian universities, launched on June 13.
After a halt in the launch activity caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Rocket Lab had planned to increase its launch activity during the second half of the year. The next assignment after that was to take place with an even shorter turnaround, Beck said in an interview on June 18. The company was also looking forward to a first Electron launch from Launch Complex 2 in Virginia which was expected to happen before the end of the summer.