Rocket Lab launch fails to reach orbit

By on 7 July, 2020

Rocket Lab’s Electron taking off on July 4, 2020, from the Launch 1 complex in Mahia, New Zealand.

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket carrying seven Earth observation satellites has failed to reach orbit after a second-stage burn failure.

Titled ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’, the mission was Rocket Labs’ 13th with the Electron vehicle, and was carrying imaging five SuperDove Earth observation satellites for Planet, as well as payloads for Canon Electronics and UK space startup In-Space Missions.

According to Rocket Lab, the failure occurred four minutes into the mission, following liftoff, first-stage burn and stage separation.

“We are deeply sorry to our customers Spaceflight Inc., Canon Electronics Inc., Planet, and In-Space Missions for the loss of their payloads. We know many people poured their hearts and souls into those spacecraft. Today’s anomaly is a reminder that space launch can be unforgiving, but we will identify the issue, rectify it, and be safely back on the pad as soon as possible,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO.

The livestreamed video for the launch shows the feed from the Electron launch vehicle cutting out just under six minutes into its flight.

The Electron launch vehicle was carrying Canon’s 67-kilogram CE-SAT-1B prototype Earth imaging satellite, capable of 90cm resolution, as well as five of Planet’s SuperDoves, upgraded models of its original imaging cubesats, capable of sensing spectral bands for agricultural and machine learning applications. The seventh satellite was a cubesat developed by the UK’s In-Space Missions designed to carry hosted payloads, which was carrying an experimental payload for Airbus Defence and Space.

Mr. Beck said that Electron remained within predicted launch corridors and that there was no damage to the Launch 1 complex facilities.

“The launch team operated with professionalism and expertise to implement systems and procedures that ensured the anomaly was managed safely. I’m proud of the way they have responded to a tough day. We’re working together as a team to comb through the data, learn from today, and prepare for our next mission.”

The loss of the ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’ mission follows 11 consecutive successful orbital launches for Rocket Lab, which is planning future launches, including one for Canon’s CE-SAT-IIB satellite later this year.

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