New Zealand-based launch company Rocket Lab has lost one of its Electron rockets in a launch failure that occurred on Saturday, May 15. The first part of the launch went off as normal, but during the second stage ignition, the engine cut out and the rocket failed to reach orbit.
This was the 20th launch of an Electron rocket, in a mission named “Running Out Of Toes.” The rocket carried a payload of two satellites for the company BlackSky, working with Spaceflight Inc., which were to be added to its global monitoring constellation. The satellites were lost as well.
“An issue was experienced during today’s launch, resulting in the loss of the mission,” Rocket Lab wrote on Twitter. “We are deeply sorry to our launch customers BlackSky and Spaceflight. The issue occurred shortly after stage two ignition. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”
In a follow-up tweet, the company said: “Our team is working hard to identify the issue from today’s mission, rectify it, and get safely back on the pad as soon as possible.”
In a full statement, Rocket Lab wrote that the issue occurred during the ignition of the second stage. When a rocket is launched, it uses its first stage, or booster, to burn fuel to help it escape Earth’s gravity and move through the atmosphere. Once the fuel is expended, the first stage drops away and the second stage takes over to take the rocket into orbit. It was at this point that the issue with the Electron occurred.
The plan for this mission had been for Rocket Lab to practice its new first stage recovery with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. As the first stage of the rocket splashed down into the ocean as expected, the company says it will be recovered as planned. As for the second stage, Rocket Lab says it “remained within the predicted launch corridor and caused no harm to the public, Rocket Lab’s launch or recovery crews, or the launch site.”
Of Rocket Lab’s 20 Electron launches, 17 have been successful and three have failed. Previous mission failures include one in July last year that was determined to be due to an electrical issue.