Rocket Lab’s ‘Pic or it didn’t happen’ launch on Saturday ended in failure, with a total loss of the Electron launch vehicle and all seven payloads on board. The launch vehicle experienced a failure during the second stage burn post-launch, after a lift-off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
The mission appeared to be progressing as intended, but the launch vehicle appeared to experience unexpected stress during the ‘Max Q’ phase of launch, or the period during which the Electron rocket experiences the most significant atmospheric pressure prior to entering space.
Launch video cut off around six minutes after liftoff during the live stream, and rocket was subsequently shown to be falling from its current altitude before the web stream was cut short. Rocket Lab then revealed via Twitter that the Electron vehicle was lost during the second stage burn, and committed to sharing more information when it becomes available.
This is an unexpected development for Rocket Lab, which has flown 11 uneventful consecutive Electron missions since the beginning of its program.
Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck posted an apology to Twitter, noting that all satellites were lost, and that he’s “incredibly sorry” to all customer who suffered loss of payload today. That includes Canon, which was flying a new Earth imaging satellite with demonstration imaging tech on board, as well as Planet, which had five satellites for its newest and most advanced Earth imaging constellation on the vehicle.
We’ll update with more info about the cause and next steps from Rocket Lab when available.
Rocket Lab is launching a rideshare mission today which includes seven small satellites from a number of different companies, including primary payload provider Canon, which is flying a satellite equipped with the camera-maker’s Earth imaging technology, including high-res photo capture equipment. The Electron rocket that Rocket Lab is flying today will also carry five Planet SuperDove Earth-Observation satellites, as well as a CubeSat from In-Space missions.
The launch, which is named ‘Pics or It Didn’t Happen’ is set to take place during a window which opens at 5:19 PM EDT (2:19 PM PDT) and extends until 6:03 PM EDT (3:03 PM EDT), lifting off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. To check it out live, tune in directly via Rocket Lab’s website here – the live stream should begin around 15 minutes prior to the opening of the launch window.
This is Rocket Lab’s third flight this year, and while the company is still in the process of developing and testing its rocket booster recovery program, this mission won’t include any booster recovery attempt. This is the company’s 13th Electron flight, and the next planned test in that system’s development is set for flight 17.
Space bus company Momentus has signed a new contract that will see it provide in-space transportation and deployment for Sen, the U.K. company that’s building a 4K real-time video streaming service providing live, high-quality views of Earth, both free for individuals and via an open source data platform for developers and service creators.
Santa Clara-based Momentus is an in-space transportation startup that provides services to satellite companies looking to move payloads after launch. They can do things like alter the orbits of satellites, and can provide that last-mile transportation leg for payloads going up on other rockets, like the SpaceX Falcon 9, which is providing the ride for the Sen satellites to their drop-off points.
From there, Momentus will use its Vigoride orbital transfer vehicles to take the Sen satellites the rest of the way. The Vigoride is a water plasma-based propulsion vehicle that will get its first test flight later this year, and the goal is to get it to operational status by 2021. The mission on behalf of Sen is set to take place in 2022.
Sen’s technology will provide imaging from small satellites equipped with multiple cameras, and ultimately it’ll operate an entire constellation built on the foundation of the first five to be launched by Momentus. The video will be available for individuals to view via web and smartphone app for free, and Momentus plans to offer premium services to businesses as its go to market plan.
Once it has Vigoride up and running in an operational capacity, Momentus plans to develop a new version called Ardoride that will follow in 2022 or 2023, providing more capacity for bigger payloads and transportation to higher orbits — as well as trips as far as the Moon.