Rocket Lab salvages first stage after Electron booster fails in flight
Startup Rocket Lab has suffered a setback during the 20th outing of its Electron booster, with the rocket experiencing an issue in flight and losing its payload along the way. The mission wasn't a complete failure, however, with the company managing to recover the booster's first stage as part of its efforts to develop a reusable spacecraft.
Called "Running Out Of Toes," Saturday's mission was intended to place Earth-observation satellites in orbit for customer BlackSky, with the Electron booster successfully lifting off as planned. After separating from the first stage, an issue occurred during the ignition of the rocket's second stage, which led to its failure and the loss of the payload.
“We are deeply sorry to our customer BlackSky for the loss of their payloads," said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and chief executive. "We understand the monumental effort that goes into every spacecraft and we feel their loss and disappointment. Our team is working hard to identify the issue, rectify it, and be safely back on the pad as soon as possible."
Rocket Lab has flown the Electron booster 20 times and reached orbit 17 times, although its latest failing came less than 12 months ago which investigations later revealed to be the result of a faulty electrical connection. The company will take solace in the fact that it was able to address the issue and return to the launchpad the following month. The investigations into the latest failure, however, are still underway.
While the primary purpose was to place satellites in orbit, Rocket Lab was also using Saturday's mission to further its ambitions around reusability. After the second stage separated, the first stage re-entered the atmosphere, using an upgraded heat shield to protect its engines as it endured extreme temperatures and pressures on the way down, before using parachutes to splashdown safely in the ocean.
This marked the second of three planned ocean splashdown recovery attempts for Rocket Lab, and the company describes this part of the mission as a success. Eventually, it plans to use a helicopter to capture the returning first stage in mid air, though it is looking to fine-tune the descent process before moving onto that more ambitious phase of the program.
Source: Rocket Lab