On Saturday morning, the Rocket Lab completed its 20th Electron mission, but there was a serious launch problem just after the second stage engine caught fire. The engine seems to have turned off immediately after ignition, which is not what it is supposed to do, and which is likely the result of an automatic emergency shutdown process that is triggered in the event of a system failure. Rocket Lab confirmed that the problem arose shortly after the second stage ignited and resulted in the loss of the vehicle and its payload.
The last company faced a mission failure in July 2020 when the vehicle and its payload on the 13th Rocket Lab flight were lost. after an engine failure occurred during the combustion of the second stage. This issue was also triggered by an emergency shutdown, which means that although the rocket and its cargo did not explode, the spacecraft simply stopped working, but did not reach its target orbit and did not release a payload.
The flight, titled “Running Out of Toes,” is the third for Rocket Lab this year and a paid, dedicated launch for the BlackSky client to deliver an Earth observation satellite for the company to help it operate its global monitoring and intelligence platform. This mission profile also included a key test of the Rocket Lab rocket reuse program, with the planned rebuilding of the first stage booster used in the Electron spacecraft that carried the satellite into space.
This was also the second time Rocket Lab performed a rocket recovery after picking up one after launch back in November. For this second attempt, the company has implemented many improvements, including upgrades to the Electron itself, with an improved thermal protection system and an improved heat shield to protect the Rutherford motors feeding the booster, which are intended to help the final reusable design keep them in good working order. good shape for future reuse after restoration.
Rocket laboratory released statement later Saturday noting that the second phase “remained within the projected launch corridor” after its emergency shutdown and would not pose any risk to the public or its teams. The company also noted that Phase I splashdown did indeed occur as planned, and that a recovery team is on site in the Pacific to retrieve the launch vehicle, so at least the secondary objective of the mission appears to be on its way to success.
This anomaly will now lead to an investigation into the cause, which will be required before Rocket Lab returns to flight to ensure future missions do not fall prey to the same problem.
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