SpaceX Rival Rocket Lab Is Cleared to Launch Again After September Anomaly

A view of the doomed Electron fairing.Photo: Rocket Lab

By George Dvorsky,
Published by Gizmodo, 26 October 2023

Following an in-flight anomaly during an Electron launch in September, Rocket Lab has been granted FAA authorization to resume its launch operations, with an anticipated return this quarter.

Rocket Lab, headquartered in Long Beach, California, announced the regulatory clearing and renewed license in an October 25 press release, saying that, despite the go-for-launch, it’s nevertheless “finalizing a meticulous review into the anomaly’s root cause, a process that involves working through an extensive fault tree to exhaust all potential causes for the anomaly, as well as completing a comprehensive test campaign to recreate the issue on the ground.”

The anomaly occurred on September 19 during the “We Will Never Desert You” mission, the company’s 41st launch of the 59-foot-tall (18-meter-tall) light lift launch vehicle. The normally trustworthy Electron is designed to deliver satellites to low Earth orbit. The flight anomaly, which resulted in the loss of a Capella Space synthetic aperture radar imaging satellite, broke a streak of 20 consecutive successful Electron missions. Rocket Lab’s Electron is the second most frequently used U.S. launch vehicle on an annual basis, serving government and commercial satellite operators worldwide.

The rocket failed shortly after second stage engine ignition, around two and half minutes after blasting off from Rocket Lab’s Mahia Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Data indicates that Electron’s first stage performed as expected and wasn’t the cause of the anomaly. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck stated: “After more than 40 launches, Electron is a proven, mature design with a well-established manufacturing process behind it, so we knew the fault was going to be something complex and extremely rare that hasn’t [been] presented in testing or flight before.” Beck’s remarks suggest a series of events, and not a single root cause, is to blame for the anomaly, though no further specifics were given.

As noted, Rocket Lab is still finalizing a detailed review of the root cause of the anomaly. The FAA is overseeing Rocket Lab’s mishap investigation, ensuring compliance with FAA-approved plans and other regulatory requirements. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also has official observer status for this investigation. The full review is slated for completion in the coming weeks.

As SpaceNews reports, Rocket Lab is set to release its third-quarter financial results on November 8, which may shed light on the financial impacts of the launch failure. Indeed, Electron needs to fly again and fly again soon. The company has dozens of contracted missions lined up, including deliveries for NorthStar Earth & Space, NASA, HawkEye 360, and Kinéis.

See: Original Article