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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Rocket Lab Gets OK for Launches

Rocket Lab USA Inc. received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to resume launches of its Electron rocket from its launch site in New Zealand.

The authorization comes after the Long Beach-based aerospace company experienced an in-flight anomaly on Sept. 19 during its 41st Electron launch.

The “We Will Never Desert You” mission was to place a satellite from Capella Space Corp. in San Francisco to low-Earth orbit.

During the mission, Electron completed a successful liftoff, first stage burn and stage separation as planned, before an issue was experienced around 2 ½ minutes into the flight shortly after second stage engine ignition, ending the mission. Flight data shows Electron’s first stage performed as expected during the mission and did not contribute to the anomaly, according to a release from Rocket Lab.

The FAA, the federal licensing body for U.S. launch vehicles, has confirmed that Rocket Lab’s launch license remains active, which is the first step to enable launches to resume, the company said in the release.

Rocket Lab is finalizing a review into the anomaly’s root cause, a process that involves working through an extensive fault tree to exhaust all potential causes for the anomaly, as well as completing a comprehensive test campaign to recreate the issue on the ground, the company added.

The FAA is providing oversight of Rocket Lab’s mishap investigation to ensure Rocket Lab complies with its FAA-approved mishap investigation plan and other regulatory requirements. In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board was granted official observer status to the investigation, Rocket Lab continued in the release.

“The full review is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, with Rocket Lab currently anticipating a return to flight later this quarter with corrective measures in place,” the company said.

Rocket Lab founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck said that after 40 launches, the Electron rocket is a proven, mature design with a well-established manufacturing process behind it.

“So we knew the fault was going to be something complex and extremely rare that hasn’t presented in testing or flight before,” Beck said in a statement. “Our investigation team with FAA oversight has worked around the clock since the moment of the anomaly to uncover all possible root causes, replicate them in test and determine a path for corrective actions to avoid similar failure modes in future. We look forward to sharing the details of the review once it is fully complete ahead of returning to flight.”

No date has been set for the next launch of the Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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