Up to now Electron has been a very reliable launcher, despite another accident last year. Flight 13, launched on 4 July 2020, failed to reach orbit because of a single anomalous electrical connection. As Rocket Lab stated, “the issue evaded pre-flight detection as the electrical connection remained secure during standard environmental acceptance testing including vibration, thermal vacuum, and thermal cycle tests”.
After flight 13 (and before that) the launcher has flown reliably until this May. When we booked a flight for WISA Woodsat we had confidence in Rocket Lab – and we still have.
Our launch manager contacted us right after the mishap on 15 May and we have been in contact several times after that. According to him, the company has already received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resume launches, but Rocket Lab is now making sure that Electron can return to flight and launch in future successfully and reliably.
Rocket Lab has multiple launch vehicles in production and – as they state in their statement – they are “prepared for a rapid return to flight as soon as investigations are complete and any required corrective actions are in place”.
Very likely our launch will be delayed from this fall, but we’re hopeful that WISA Woodsat can be launched before the end of this year.
While waiting we continue as planned with the satellite. The flight version and a backup satellite will be ready in June. The crucial environmental and vibration tests will be conducted at the European Space Agency’s technical centre ESTEC (in Noorwijk, the Netherlands) in early July.
After the tests, the satellite will be technically ready for launch – if no problems are found.
What happened on flight 20?
Rocket Lab says they continued to receive good telemetry from Electron following the safe engine shutdown on stage two that happened just after the staging. The data acquired provided engineers with comprehensive data to review as part of a robust review into the anomaly.
That data suggests an engine computer detected an issue shortly after stage 2 engine ignition, causing the computer to command a safe shutdown as it is designed to do. The behavior had not been observed previously during Rocket Lab’s extensive ground testing operations, which include multiple engine hot fires and full mission duration stage tests prior to flight.
This previous text was taken from Rocket Lab’s announcement.
The root cause has not been communicated, but Rocket Lab is sure they can return to flight quite soon.
“After 17 successful missions and more than 100 satellites deployed to orbit prior to this mission, and with multiple launch vehicles currently in production, we are confident in a swift and reliable return to flight with minimal impact on our launch manifest this year”, said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and chief executive.
The Electron’s first stage performed nominally during the mission and did not contribute to the flight issue. It completed a successful splashdown under parachute as planned and was recovered by Rocket Lab’s team.
The new heat shield protected the stage while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and the engines remain in good condition.
As we are the first wooden satellite in the world flagging for ecological issues and recycling, we’re also happy to note that this is a path towards reusability of the Electron’s first stages.
Rocket Lab states that Electron is advancing quickly and the company intends to conduct its third recovery mission later this year.
Will it be ours? – this remains to be seen. We hope so!
Electron's 1st stage recovered.