Rocket Lab’s 13th mission ended in failure on Saturday, after the company’s rocket experienced “an anomaly” after launching to space. As a result, Rocket Lab lost its rocket, as well as all the satellites it carried on board.
The company’s Electron rocket successfully took off at 5:19PM ET from Rocket Lab’s primary launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The launch seemed to proceed just fine for the first crucial minutes, but about six minutes into the launch, live video from the rocket stalled. At that point, Rocket Lab’s livestream indicated that the rocket started to lose speed, and the vehicle dropped in altitude.
Rocket Lab eventually cut the livestream. Afterward, the company revealed that the Electron rocket had been lost during flight. The company said in a statement that the still-unidentified issue occurred about four minutes into flight.
An issue was experienced today during Rocket Lab's launch that caused the loss of the vehicle. We are deeply sorry to the customers on board Electron. The issue occurred late in the flight during the 2nd stage burn. More information will be provided as it becomes available.— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) July 4, 2020
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck apologized for the failure. “We are deeply sorry to our customers Spaceflight Inc., Canon Electronics Inc., Planet, and In-Space Missions for the loss of their payloads,” Beck said in a statement. “We know many people poured their hearts and souls into those spacecraft. Today’s anomaly is a reminder that space launch can be unforgiving, but we will identify the issue, rectify it, and be safely back on the pad as soon as possible.”
Beck praised the launch team for their “professionalism and expertise,” and for handing the situation safely. “I’m proud of the way they have responded to a tough day. We’re working together as a team to comb through the data, learn from today, and prepare for our next mission.”
The mission, named “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen,” carried mostly Earth-imaging small satellites. The primary payload was Canon Electronics’ CE-SAT-IB, designed to demonstrate Earth-imaging technology with high-resolution and wide-angle cameras. The rocket also carried five SuperDove satellites from the company Planet, designed to image Earth from above. The last payload was a small satellite called Faraday-1, from In-Space Missions, which hosted multiple instruments from startups and other organizations that needed a ride to space.
Planet’s CEO Will Marshall announced the loss of the satellites on Twitter, noting that the company has plans to launch even more satellites this summer on two separate launches. “While it’s never the outcome that we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one Planet is always prepared for,” the company said in a statement. Planet is about to launch up to 26 of its SuperDove satellites on a European Vega rocket in August, from South America.
Since its inception, Rocket Lab has put 53 spacecraft into low Earth orbit on 12 separate missions, with this weekend’s launch the third for Rocket Lab this year. The majority of the company’s flight have been successful. Rocket Lab’s very first flight in 2017, called “It’s a Test,” was the only flight that didn’t operate according to plan; the rocket successfully launched and made it to space, but didn’t reach orbit. All of Rocket Lab’s other missions have been picture perfect since then, making today’s flight the first major failure for the company.
UPDATE July 5th 9:02AM ET: Added statement from Rocket Lab