The second stage of a rocket laboratory rocket with seven small satellites did not work after launching from New Zealand on Saturday, suddenly slowed down and lost altitude. The company confirmed the vehicle and its payloads were lost, but no indication of what went wrong was immediately available.
“We lost the flight late into the mission,” tweeted the company’s CEO Peter Beck. “I am extremely sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Be sure we will find the problem, correct it and be back on the pad soon.”
Rocket Lab’s innovative electronic protection device, with 3D-printed engines and battery-powered fuel pumps, is designed to launch small satellites in low Earth orbit at a relatively low cost, providing access to payload space that might otherwise have to wait for more expensive aircraft on larger boosters.
The rocket launched on Saturday made the company’s 13th flight. It carried an experimental image satellite built by Canon, five “SuperDove” Earth observation satellites owned by Planet and a small technology demonstration satellite built by the British company In-Space Missions.
The electron blasted away from Rocket Lab’s quaint launch site on the rocky coast of the Mahia Peninsula at 17:19 EDT. The nine Rutherford engines that propel the first stage were normally executed and reinforced the rocket from the lower atmosphere. The second step, with a single vacuum optimized engine, then took over.
But about five minutes and 41 seconds after takeoff, the telemetry provided by Rocket Lab, along with the company’s provided video from cameras on rockets, showed the speed of the scene peaking at about 8,509 mph, at an altitude of about 119 miles, and then started dropping.
The altitude continued to increase for another 26 seconds, reaching 121 km, before it also began to decrease. Rocket Lab ended the webcast launch a few minutes later without any comment on telemetry or the outcome of the mission. But Beck confirmed the loss of mission a few minutes after that.
Rocket Lab, based in New Zealand and now headquartered in Long Beach, California, launched its first Electron in 2017. The flight ended after a loss of telemetry, but the booster worked normally at that time. Saturday’s loss was the company’s second electron failure on 13 flights.
Spaceflight, a company that brokers ride sharing missions, including Canon’s launch on Saturday, said in a statement “we are obviously disappointed, while we are always aware that launch failures are part of space operations.”
“We will work closely with Rocket Lab and our customer Canon Electronics who had their CE-SAT-IB imaging satellite aboard this mission to find out the next steps, but we are uncertain in our determination to get our customers into space . Our hearts go to all the teams that worked so hard on this mission. “
A statement from Planet expressed support for Rocket Lab.
“While that is never the result we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one that Planet is always prepared for,” the company said on its website. “We already have 26 SuperDoves … scheduled for launch on (an Arianespace) Vega rocket later this summer, and several other launches over the next 12 months are on the manifesto.”
“We have full faith that Rocket Lab will be able to bounce back from today’s failure in no time, and we look forward to flying at Electron again,” Planet added.
Finally, In-Space’s team tweeted was “absolutely put off by this news. Two years of hard work from an incredibly committed group of brilliant engineers up in smoke. It was really a very cool spaceship.”