Rocket Lab Encounters Anomaly During Earth-observation Satellite Launch


Rocket Lab experienced an anomaly during the launch of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) Earth-observation satellite in the early hours of Tuesday morning, September 19. The incident occurred during a mission named “We Will Never Desert You,” marking a deviation from the company’s previously successful launches.

The Launch

An Electron rocket, carrying a SAR spacecraft for the California-based company Capella Space, took off from Rocket Lab’s launch site in New Zealand at 2:55 a.m. EDT (0655 GMT; 6:55 p.m. local New Zealand time). The initial stages of the launch proceeded as planned, with the Electron’s two stages separating around 2.5 minutes after liftoff.

The Anomaly

However, shortly after the separation of the Electron’s stages, an anomaly occurred, resulting in the termination of the flight. Rocket Lab’s telemetry data, provided during the livestream of the launch, indicated a decrease in the velocity of the rocket’s upper stage shortly after the expected activation of its single Rutherford engine.

The exact cause of the anomaly remains uncertain, with speculations pointing to a potential ignition failure or premature shutdown of the upper-stage engine. Rocket Lab has refrained from confirming an immediate cause, mentioning in a post on its communication platform (formerly Twitter) that further information will be provided as it becomes available.

Mission Background

The mission “We Will Never Desert You” was the ninth of the year for Rocket Lab and the 41st overall. This incident interrupted a streak of 19 consecutive successful launches, with the company’s last failure dating back to May 2021.

The primary objective of this mission was to place one of Capella Space’s “Acadia” satellites into a circular orbit approximately 395 miles above Earth. This launch marked the second in a four-launch contract designed to deploy advanced SAR satellites into space.

The first mission under this contract, “We Love the Nightlife,” took place on August 23 and featured an Electron rocket with a reused first-stage engine. This achievement was significant for Rocket Lab, as they are actively working on making their boosters reusable. The company also successfully recovered the Electron’s first stage on “We Love the Nightlife,” employing a parachute-aided ocean splashdown for the purpose. However, “We Will Never Desert You” did not involve a preflown engine, and there were no plans for a rocket recovery attempt, as Rocket Lab had not mentioned such intentions prior to the launch or during the webcast.

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