Rocket Lab satellite launch fails before reaching orbit – Spaceflight Now

An Electron rocket takes off on Saturday (US time) from New Zealand with seven satellites on board. Credit: Rocket Laboratory

A failure during the second stage of burning an Electron Rocket Lab rocket caused seven small commercial satellites to return to Earth on Saturday after takeoff from New Zealand.

Using satellites from the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, the Electron launcher took off from Rocket Lab’s private spaceport on the North Island of New Zealand at 5:19:36 pm EDT (2119: 36 GMT).

The 55-foot (17-meter) liquid fuel rocket was intended to deploy the small satellites to an altitude of 310 miles (500 kilometers), but a malfunction during the second stage of the Electron burn prevented the rocket from reaching the speed necessary to enter a stable orbit around Earth.

“We missed the flight late on the mission,” tweeted Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. “I am very sorry that we were unable to deliver satellites to our customers today. Rest assured that we will find the problem, correct it, and return to the platform soon. ”

In a statement Saturday, Rocket Lab said the problem that caused the launch failure occurred “approximately four minutes after the flight.” The company said the rocket remained within its flight safety corridor and that it is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to “investigate the anomaly and identify its root cause to correct the problem to move forward.”

The first visual evidence of a problem in Rocket Lab’s live video feed of Saturday’s mission occurred a little later.

The video stream seemed to show the second stage of the Electron firing normally until the live stream of the rocket froze at T + plus 5 minutes, 41 seconds. At the same time, the telemetry data displayed on the Rocket Lab video stream showed that the rocket stopped accelerating at a speed of 8,509 mph, or nearly 13,700 km / h.

An altitude display showed the rocket continued to rise for an additional 26 seconds, reaching a maximum altitude of 121 miles (194.8 kilometers) before descending back to Earth. The rocket and its charges likely disintegrated and burned once they re-entered the atmosphere.

The seven satellites lost in the failure of Saturday’s launch were owned by Canon, Planet and a British launch company called Missions in Space.

Canon’s CE-SAT-1B terrestrial imaging spacecraft was the largest payload on the mission on Saturday. The 147-pound (67-kilogram) satellite was shaped like a cube and measures slightly larger than a bedroom refrigerator.

According to Canon, its camera system was designed to be able to solve objects on the ground as small as about 3 feet or 90 centimeters. CE-SAT-1B was to be Canon’s second orbiting satellite, and the Japanese electronics company, which was surveying a fleet of Earth-observing satellites, intended to test the design of the spacecraft for production in future mass.

Spaceflight, a Seattle-based ridesharing launch broker acquired by Japanese conglomerate Mitsui last month, organized the launch of the CE-SAT-1B spacecraft with Rocket Lab.

“Of course, we are disappointed, while at the same time always aware that launch failures are part of the space business,” Spaceflight said in a statement. “We will work closely with Rocket Lab and our client Canon Electronics, who had their CE-SAT-IB imaging satellite on board this mission to uncover next steps, but we did not flinch in our determination to take our clients into space. .

“We have faith in all of our launch vehicles, including Electron, and look forward to many more successful launches with them,” said Spaceflight.

Canon’s CE-SAT-1B terrestrial imaging satellite was the largest payload lost in Saturday’s mission. Six smaller CubeSats were stored within Rocket Lab’s Maxwell implementers. Credit: Rocket Lab

Five of the planet’s SuperDove Earth observation nanosatellites were also aboard the Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket on Saturday. The SuperDoves were advanced versions of Planet’s medium-resolution Dove satellites, each one about the size of a shoebox.

Based in San Francisco, Planet operates a fleet of more than 120 Earth observation satellites that provide daily image coverage of the entire land mass of the world, providing data on changing characteristics to governments and companies. The five SuperDoves launched with the Rocket Lab on Saturday were part of Planet’s “Flock 4e” batch of nano-satellites.

“Although it is never the result we expect, the risk of launch failure is one that Planet is always prepared for,” Planet said in a statement on its website. “We already have 26 SuperDoves, Flock 4v, scheduled for launch on a Vega rocket later this summer, and several other launches in the next 12 months are on the manifest.”

The other payload in the failed launch of Rocket Lab on Saturday was Faraday 1, a CubeSat from British company In-Space Missions. The 6U CubeSat is about the size of a small briefcase, and is the first in a series of small seats planned by Missions in space.

“The team in space is absolutely gutted by this news,” the company tweeted. “Two years of hard work by an incredibly committed group of brilliant engineers in the smoke. It really was a cool little spaceship. “

Faraday 1 was packed with experimental charges, including an Airbus Defense and Space software-defined radio that can be remotely reprogrammed into orbit. Other payloads in Faraday 1 included searching for applications such as the Internet of Things, characterization of a ground laser, 360-degree optical video imaging, radio spectrum monitoring, real-time video from space, and satellite-based communications. , according to In -Space missions.

Saturday’s launch was the 13th mission of the Rocket Lab Electron Amplifier, which is sized to carry small satellites into orbit on dedicated missions. Rocket Lab says its launch service allows small businesses to place their payloads in more ideal orbits on their own schedule, rather than taking a shared space or secondary cargo slot on a larger rocket.

A ground system problem forced the completion of the first launch of the Electron test in 2017. Rocket Lab officials said the Electron rocket functioned normally on that mission until range security teams had to send the termination command. .

Based in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab has accumulated 11 consecutive successful launches since then, delivering 53 small satellites into orbit for commercial clients, universities, NASA, the US Army, and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Before the failure of Saturday’s launch, the Rocket Lab said its goal was to launch a monthly cadence for the rest of 2020 and through 2021. The company said it planned to launch its first Electron rocket from a new launch site in Wallops Island, Virginia, as soon as possible. August.

Rocket Lab’s next launch from New Zealand was to bring a commercial radar surveillance satellite into orbit for Capella Space, a San Francisco startup that develops an all-weather constellation of Earth-imaging spacecraft.

The company said in a statement Saturday that it has eight Electron rockets in production at factories in Auckland, New Zealand and southern California.

Made of carbon fiber materials and powered by 3D printing with electric turbomotors, the Electron rocket has numerous missions on the books, including flights for the U.S. Army, NRO, and NASA, which announced a contract earlier this year for the Rocket Lab to launch CubeSat to the moon.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.