The Rocket Lab Electron launcher malfunctioned about two and a half minutes after it took off from New Zealand on Saturday, destroying two BlackSky Earth imaging satellites on the company’s second flight that failed in less than a year.
Rocket Lab, a small satellite launch company headquartered in Long Beach, California, confirmed the failure after live video streams from the electron launcher appeared to show the second phase of the rocket that fell for about two and a half minutes. After release from New Zealand
The rocket’s first phase booster powered by a Rutherford 9 kerosene engine propelled the mission from the launch pad at Rocket Lab’s private dock on New Zealand’s North Island at 7:11 AM EDT (1111 GMT; 11:11 PM. Local time)
After an hour delay waiting for better upper wind conditions, a six-layer electron rocket took off with more than 50,000 pounds of thrust and blasted southeast from New Zealand with the goal of placing two satellites into orbit for BlackSky, a Seattle-based remote sensing company.
The initial engine burn seemed to have ended as planned about two and a half minutes after the overhaul. Moments later, the onboard video showed a separate carbon composite booster distance from the top at an altitude of nearly 250,000 feet (75 kilometers) and a speed of approximately 5,100 mph (8,200 kph).
The single Rutherford engine in the second stage should be fired for more than six minutes to reach the preliminary parking orbit. But it looks like the rocket is violently spinning out of control when the engine is on fire.
The engine turned off prematurely after a few seconds of fire, and Rocket Lab’s live speed data showed the vehicles lost speed, indicating a major problem.
Rocket Lab discontinued its webcast after announcing the interruption of the telemetry signal from the launch vehicle, the company released a statement approximately two hours later confirming the launch failure.
The upper steps of the Rocket Lab’s electron emitter appear to have collapsed after starting the engine after the initial electron shutdown and separation.
Stage engines also seem to have cut. Rocket Lab has discontinued its webcast launch. https://t.co/yjFcazbPGG pic.twitter.com/fcxAxuXcHj
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) May 15, 2021
The company said in a statement that the rocket remained in the anticipated launch corridor and had no threat to the public, Rocket Lab personnel or the launch site.
“We are deeply sorry to our customers, BlackSky, for the payload,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s Founder and CEO. Their losses and disappointments. Our team is working hard to identify problems, fix them and put them back in place as quickly as possible. ”
Rocket Lab is working with the Federal Aviation Administration. It has regulatory oversight for U.S.-launched companies to investigate failures and pinpoint the root cause, the company said.
“On one of our toughest days, our team went professional and worked very quickly to make sure the anomaly was handled safely,” Beck said in a statement. Our flexibility and top priority is a safe and reliable return to flights for our customers. We will learn from it and we will come back to the pad again. ”
Saturday’s launch crash resulted in the failure of two Rocket Lab missions last year. Engineers investigated the cause of the electron failure in the upper stage last July as being caused by a faulty electrical connector, which fell out of the plane and led to a premature shutdown.
Seven small commercial satellites were lost to the mission that failed in July.Rocket Lab said it had carried out improved testing to better screens for bad connectors and the company had successfully launched it. The next Electron mission was less than two months later.
Rocket Lab held six successful Electron missions before the failed launch on Saturday. Three electron rockets have been unable to reach orbit since Rocket Lab’s first attempt in 2017, including an accident where the first electron test flight operator was blamed for a ground system problem.
The Electron rocket, with the help of its third stage engine, was programmed to deploy the BlackSky satellite in 267 miles (430 kilometers) orbit to join the company’s seven other commercial observation spacecraft.
Each twin-Earth imaging satellite, weighing about 121 pounds, or 55 kilograms, is supposed to be the eighth and ninth spacecraft to join BlackSky’s Global Fleet. The electron rocket carrying the first flying new twin payload adapter structure.
Spaceflight, the Seattle-based ride-sharing company that brokered a launch deal between Black Sky and Rocket Lab, tweeted after the failure that it was “Sad day”
“We regret our customers BlackSky for the loss of this mission,” Spaceflight tweeted. “We will share more information as we learn.”
Rocket Lab’s New Zealand electron emitter with two Earth observation satellites for BlackSky https://t.co/yjFcaztqye pic.twitter.com/vTaxROvXkG
– Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) May 15, 2021
“We have developed a flexible and responsive strategy for our constellations,” said Brian O’Toole, CEO of BlackSky. Delivered during this year We will continue to expand our constellation and expect to continue to achieve our business objectives. ”
BlackSky said each spacecraft today can capture up to 1,000 color images per day at a resolution of about 3 feet (1 meter) from orbit about 280 miles (450 kilometers) above Earth. 24 microsatellites To collect high resolution images for sale to commercial and government customers, including the US Army.
The satellite was built in Tukwila, Washington by LeoStella, a joint venture between BlackSky and European satellite maker Thales Alenia Space.
Ahead of Saturday’s mission, BlackSky said it had a deal to launch nine high-resolution satellites with Rocket Lab before the end of 2021.The first flight took place in March, successfully sending a single BlackSky spacecraft into orbit. orbit
Three more dedicated Rocket Lab missions for BlackSky are scheduled later this year, each with two satellites. It’s too early on Saturday to find out how a launch failure might affect those schedules.
The Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is sized to launch smaller satellites into orbit, providing a dedicated spacecraft ride that must fly as a lower priority payload on larger launchers.
The Electron rocket is capable of lifting about 1% of the SpaceX launchers.The Falcon 9 Rocket Lab sells the Electron-specific mission for just $ 7 million.
In a bid to cut prices and increase launch rates, Rocket Lab conducts experiments with the recovery and reuse of its Electron rocket.The company successfully pulled the intact booster from the Pacific Ocean last year. And Saturday’s launch unveiled a heat shield designed to help reduce the heat and stress of the rocket during its re-entry into the atmosphere.
In good news for Rocket Lab, the company confirmed that the Electron Booster on Saturday’s mission had successfully parachuted into the Pacific, the Rocket Lab’s recovery team plans to implement a new, hydraulic rigid structure. To catch the boosters out of the water and lift them onto the boat to return to New Zealand.
Engineers will examine the rocket to see how it obscures the hot new arrival.
Ahead of Saturday’s launch, Rocket Lab said the next step in its recovery and reuse program will be a new slowdown to reduce rocket stress during descent. The system could be launched before the end of the year, Rocket Lab said.
If the rocket is in good condition after the next recovery attempt, Beck said the Rocket Lab can attempt to catch the booster under a parachute using a helicopter, a technique that aims to keep the rocket away from impact. Salt water contamination minimizes renovation efforts. And reuse the stage
Lessons learned from the Electron program will be applied to the Rocket Lab’s neutron rocket design, a partially reusable medium-lift vehicle scheduled to begin flying in 2024 Beck. Said at a press conference earlier this week
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