WASHINGTON – Up and coming U.S. government launch provider Rocket Lab says it has identified the anomaly behind a July 4 in-flight failure of one of its rockets, and the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared the company to resume launches, the company announced July 31.
Several minutes after one of the company’s Electron rockets successfully lifted-off from its New Zealand launch pad on July 4, the engine automatically initiated a safe shutdown. It was unable to reach orbit, and—while no one was injured—the incident resulted in the loss of the rocket and the commercial payloads it was carrying.
Over the last few weeks, the company has been able to go over its telemetry with the FAA to identify the issue: A single electrical connection that evaded pre-flight testing.
“The issue occurred under incredibly specific and unique circumstances, causing the connection to fail in a way that we wouldn’t detect with standard testing. Our team has now reliably replicated the issue in test and identified that it can be mitigated through additional testing and procedures,” said Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO Peter Beck in a statement.
The incident took place as Rocket Lab continues to grow its commercial and government customer base. The company says its Electron rocket was the 4th most frequently launched rocket in the world last year. The U.S. government has shown increasing interest in leveraging the company’s small launch capability: The U.S. Air Force has awarded the company multiple launch contracts in recent years, the National Reconnaissance Office launched its first payload from New Zealand on an Electron, and the U.S. Space Force is expected to launch a payload with the company in the coming months.
Rocket Lab is slated to launch a single micro-sat for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Monolith program — which will explore whether small satellites can support large aperture payloads for space weather monitoring — in the late August/early September time frame. That will be Rocket Lab’s first launch from U.S. soil, taking place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.
In a media call July 31, Beck said that planned launches with the Space Force and NRO would move forward as planned, although there may be slight delays. Both organizations told C4ISRNET earlier this month that they intended to continue working with the company on upcoming launches despite the July 4 incident.
“I think we’ve enjoyed really close relationships with our government customers, and we have opened the full investigation to them. They’ve had the ability to watch us go through this process,” said Beck. “We’ve had great support from those customers and I think everybody in this industry appreciates that—on occasion—these things can happen.”
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