Rocket Lab Identifies Failure Issue, Will Resume Launches

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New Zealand private launch company Rocket Lab announced it has discovered the cause of a failed launch last month, and that it will resume launches this month.

On July 5, 2020, Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, carrying seven satellites from three different companies. The lift-off went well, with no issues, but several minutes after this an error occurred and the rocket failed to reach orbit. The upper stage of the rocket and the payloads crashed back to Earth and were lost.

Following the incident, Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck put out a personal video message to the company’s customers, apologizing for the loss of the payloads. The company also began an investigation into what went wrong, working with the Federal Aviation Authority.

Now, the company says it has identified the cause of the problem: What it describes as “an anomalous electrical connection.” The investigation found that the problem occurred a few minutes into the second stage burn, when a single electrical connection which had been intermittently connecting throughout the flight expanded due to increased resistance and heat. This connection melted other electrical parts around it, leading to the failure of the electrical system which shut down the engines.

Rocket Lab says the issue was not detected in its pre-flight checks because the connection was intermittent, and had been solid during the testing period.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket
Rocket Lab

The company says that this issue was brand new and had not occurred in previous launches. “The issue occurred under incredibly specific and unique circumstances, causing the connection to fail in a way that we wouldn’t detect with standard testing,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “Our team has now reliably replicated the issue in test and identified that it can be mitigated through additional testing and procedures.”

“It’s a testament to Electron’s track record of reliability that the FAA has approved us for return to flight already,” Beck continued. “Electron was the 4th most frequently launched rocket in the world last year and prior to the anomaly, we had deployed 53 customer payloads to orbit without fail. Returning to the pad with an even more reliable vehicle for our mission partners is our top priority.”

The company says it has plans for a new dedicated launch within the month of August, with more details to come soon.

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