One of the companies that is performing commercial space operations is Rocket Lab. Saturday morning, Rocket Lab launched its 20th mission using its Electron rocket and ran into a significant issue. Not long into the flight, the second stage engine failed shortly after ignition.
The assumption is the second stage engine shutdown was due to an automated emergency shutdown process triggered due to some sort of system failure. The company has confirmed the shutdown happened shortly after ignition and that the shutdown resulted in the loss of the vehicle and its payload.
Saturday’s failure isn’t the first time Rocket Lab has lost a mission and its payload. In July 2020, its 13th Electron flight also resulted in the loss of the vehicle and payload. Interestingly, the issue in that failed mission appears to be the same issue that happened today. It’s worth noting that the engine failure didn’t result in an explosion of the rocket or the payload. The rocket simply stopped functioning and wasn’t in position to release the payload.
The payload aboard the 20th mission was a dedicated launch for a customer called BlackSky. The cargo aboard was an Earth observation satellite that was meant to power the company’s global monitoring and intelligence platform. The mission was also intended to test the rocket recovery program Rocket Lab is running.
Much like SpaceX, Rocket Lab wants to recover its rockets and reuse them on future flights to reduce cost. The company has promised more details about the mission loss when they are available. It’s unclear at this point when those additional details will be offered or how the loss of a second spacecraft and cargo might impact the company’s operations moving forward.