Rocket Lab ended its streak of 11 successful Electron rocket launches in a row on Saturday, July 4. The 13th flight of Electron resulted in a loss of vehicle about 10 minutes after what appeared to be a successful launch.
“The issue occurred approximately four minutes into the flight on July 4, 2020, and resulted in the safe loss of the vehicle. As a result, the payloads onboard Electron were not deployed to orbit,” said Rocket Lab. ‘Electron remained within the predicted launch corridors and caused no harm to personnel or the launch site.”
Rocket Lab’s “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” ride-sharing mission, named for its Earth imaging satellite payload, carried and lost hardware from Canon, Planet, and British Faraday-1. Canon’s satellite was designed to test its in-house Earth imaging system; the two other customers were deploying data collecting research satellites.
The small satellite launch company says it is “working closely with the FAA to investigate the anomaly and identify its root cause to correct the issue” before future launches.
The mission was also intended to demonstrate Rocket Lab’s increasingly fast capability of launching satellites on its rockets with minimal time between flights.
The 13th flight of Electron occurred just three weeks after the prior mission. Factors like refurbishing the launchpad at the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand would soon be eliminated with the construction of a second launch complex on-site.
Rocket Lab is also finalizing Launch Complex 2, its U.S. launch site at Wallops Island in Virginia. The first launch from the U.S. for Rocket Lab was expected to occur in August.
The unexpected mission failure and loss of vehicle will necessarily pause Rocket Lab launches, however, while the cause of the issue is being investigated and corrected.
“Rocket Lab currently has more than eight Electron vehicles in production, ready for a rapid return to flight as soon as investigations are complete and any required corrective actions are in place,” the company said in a statement.
The mission failure marks the first loss of vehicle for Rocket Lab since its very first flight test three years ago.