Electron failed to reach orbit due to ground equipment issue, says Rocket Lab

Launch of "It's A Test". Image courtesy of Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab, a launch services provider based in New Zealand and the U.S., has just released a statement reporting that the launch of its first rocket, Electron, failed to reach orbit due to an independent contractor’s ground equipment issue.

The launch, named “It’s A Test”, took place on 25 May from the Mahai Peninsula in New Zealand. This was the company’s first test launch of its first rocket, Electron, a two-stage launch vehicle meant to be a cost-effective solution to accessing Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Although Electron succeeded in entering space, it failed to complete its first orbit.

After conducting an investigation involving 25,000 channels of flight data, as well as a thorough testing of Rocket Lab facilities, the team concluded that the failure to reach orbit was due to a data loss time-out caused by misconfiguration of telemetry equipment. According to Rocket Lab, there were no issues with the rocket itself.

The telemetry system is owned and operated by an unnamed third party contractor, who failed to enable forward error correction on a key piece of equipment responsible for translating radio signals into data.

“We have demonstrated Electron was following its nominal trajectory and was on course to reach orbit,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO. “While it was disappointing to see the flight terminated in essence due to an incorrect tick box, we can say we tested nearly everything, including the flight termination system. We were delighted with the amount of data we were able to collect during an exceptional first test launch.

The investigation was overseen by the US Federal Aviation Administration, who will now review the findings.

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab has authorized the production for four additional Electron rockets and is preparing its second Electron rocket, named ‘Still Testing’, for a launch slated to take place in August or September 2017.

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