The aerospace company’s license was under FAA review after a failure that occurred around three minutes into a May 15 launch from its facility on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. The launch marked the 20th mission for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.
After a successful lift-off from Launch Complex 1, including stage separation and second stage ignition, the rocket’s stage two engine shut down, resulting in the loss of its payload.
Founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck said in a statement on June 2 that a Rocket Lab team is conducting an “intricate and layered” analysis to determine the cause of the failure. That review is expected to wrap up in coming weeks.
Beck added that the company has successfully simulated the issue in testing and determined that “multiple conditions” led to the flight’s failure.
“With a vehicle with so much flight history and our heavy mission assurance and quality focus, any anomaly was always going to be a complex failure,” Beck said.
Rocket Lab encountered a similar launch failure on its 13th Electron mission in July 2020 when its second-stage engine shut down after ignition and the payload was lost. Rocket Lab concluded that the failure was due to a bad electrical connection.
Rocket Lab said the May mission helped the company achieve a milestone in making the Electron rocket a reusable launch vehicle, as the first stage of the launch was successfully recovered from the ocean.
The company debuted its new heat shield during the mission, which protected the first stage from intense heat forces during its fall.
Rocket Lab plans to reuse elements of the recovered launch vehicle in future missions, it said in a statement. The company said it will release plans for its next launch in coming weeks.
“Reusability will enable us to further increase launch cadence giving our customers on-demand access to space,” Beck said in a statement.
Since 2017, Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket has completed 17 successful launches and sent more than 100 satellites to orbit. It is the fourth most frequently launched rocket in the world, according to the company.
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