Less than a month after Rocket Lab lost a rocket in a mission, the small satellite launch company has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to start launching its Electron rocket again,media reported. The company plans to launch the next rocket from the company’s main launch site in New Zealand sometime in August.
On July 4, Rocket Lab launched its 13th mission into space from New Zealand, carrying seven small satellites, most of which were designed to image the Earth from above. According to Rocket Lab, just minutes after the flight, the upper engine of the Electron rocket shut down prematurely. As a result, the rocket failed to orbit and fell back into the Earth’s atmosphere, burning there and destroying all the satellites on board.
Rocket Lab claims that after the early shutdown, it continued to obtain data from the rocket, allowing the company to figure out what was wrong. “The good news — if there’s any good news about the anomaly — is that the engine is shutting down in a very controlled way,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a press release. In the end, Rocket Lab blamed the problem on an electrical connection failure. As the emitted is carried out, the bad connection expands and heats it, effectively liquefying its surroundings. This has a knock-on effect, leading to a shutdown.
Before the flight, Beck said, all of the company’s tests avoided electrical problems. Engineers later realized that the wrong connection took several minutes to show any problems, which is why the team missed it in its first short test before launch. Beck says engineers have been able to replicate the problem and believe they can screen it for future tests. “The issue has been fully understood by the team,” he said. “We have 600 people working at Rocket Lab, and that’s everyone’s priority.” However, Beck said the company was unsure whether the problem was due to poor manufacturing or parts assembly.
Prior to the launch in July, all rocket Lab launches were carried out more or less smoothly, reached orbit on schedule and all satellites were successfully deployed. The only exception was the company’s first launch, strictly a test mission, which went into space but did not reach orbit.
Beck said the incident did not cause any of Rocket Lab’s customers to abandon the company. In fact, Rocket Lab plans to announce its next launch in the coming weeks. While the company did suffer a financial shock, Beck said it had enough cushioning and had planned for any potential failure. In addition, he said, they were lucky that the rocket failed in this way, not on the launch pad. “In terms of failure, you know, in many ways it’s a pretty good loss,” he says. “