Rocket Lab’s 13th mission ended in failure on Saturday, after the vehicle started losing speed and dropped in altitude. The rocket experienced “an anomaly” after launching to space.
As a result, Rocket Lab lost its rocket, and all the satellites it carried on board.
The company’s rocket is called the Electron. It successfully took off at 5:19PM ET from their primary launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
The rocket launch seemed to proceed just fine for the first crucial minutes. Then, about six minutes into the launch, live video from the rocket stalled.
At that point, Rocket Lab’s livestream indicated that the vehicle was losing speed. Then the rocket dropped in altitude.
Rocket Lab eventually cut the livestream and then afterward revealed that the Electron rocket had been lost during flight. The still-unidentified issue occurred about four minutes into flight, the company said in a statement.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck apologized to their customers Spaceflight Inc., Canon Electronics Inc., Planet, and In-Space Missions. He said they are deeply sorry for the loss of their payloads.
They know many people poured their hearts and souls into those spacecraft, he said. He also added that today’s anomaly is a reminder that space launch can be unforgiving. But they will identify the issue, rectify it, and be safely back on the pad as soon as possible.
Beck praised the launch team for their professionalism, expertise, and for handling the situation safely. He said he’s proud of the way they have responded to a tough day. They’re working together as a team to comb through the data, learn from today, and prepare for their next mission.
The Rocket’s Mission: Pics or It Didn’t Happen
The mission was named “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”. It carried mostly Earth-imaging small satellites.
The primary payload was Canon Electronics’ CE-SAT-IB. It is designed to demonstrate Earth-imaging technology with high-resolution and wide-angle cameras.
To record the earth’s surface from above, the rocket also carried five SuperDove satellites from the company Planet.
A small satellite called Faraday-1, from In-Space Missions was the last payload. It hosted multiple instruments from startups and other organizations that needed a ride to space.
Will Marshall, the Planet’s CEO, announced the loss of the satellites on Twitter. It noted that the company has plans to launch even more satellites this summer on two separate launches.
While it’s would never have been the outcome that they hoped for, Planet is always prepared for the risk of launch failure. It will launch up to 26 of its SuperDove satellites on a European Vega rocket in August, from South America.
Rocket Lab has put 53 spacecraft into low Earth orbit on 12 separate missions since its inception. This weekend’s launch was the third for Rocket Lab this year.
The majority of its flights have been successful. Its very first flight in 2017, called It’s a Test, was the only flight that didn’t operate according to plan.
It successfully launched and made it to space, but didn’t reach orbit. Since then, all of Rocket Lab’s other missions have been picture perfect. That makes today’s flight the first major failure for the company.