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Rocket Lab prepares Electron for its second test flight

Rocket Lab's logo on the side of the company's Electron rocket

Rocket Lab’s logo on the side of the company’s Electron rocket. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Less than six months after the maiden flight of their Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab is preparing for the second flight of its new rocket. With the arrival of the vehicle at the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, Rocket Lab now begins the pre-flight phase of their second mission.

“It’s a great feeling to have another rocket on the pad,” stated Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, in a release issued by the company. “To be preparing for a second flight just months after an inaugural test is unprecedented for a new launch vehicle. It’s a testament to Electron’s robust design and the hard-working team behind it.”

That rocket’s design, which features a carbon-composite body and the company’s Rutherford engine, actually made it to space on its first flight – named “It’s a Test” – though it failed to achieve orbit. That failure was attributed to a fault with a third-party company’s telemetry equipment and not a flaw in the design of the vehicle itself.

Electron rocket climbs spaceward on its inaugural launch on May 25, 2017

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket climbs spaceward on its inaugural launch on May 25, 2017. Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

According to Rocket Lab, an investigation determined that the rocket was performing nominally until it reached an altitude of about 139.2 miles (224 kilometers). After sifting through more than 25,000 channels of data, it was discovered that a contractor had improperly configured a telemetry device, resulting in a signal loss to the vehicle. Mission guidelines required the flight to be terminated with the comm loss, even though the flight was otherwise faultless.

“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,” noted Beck.

Reiterating the point that Electron is very much a developing system, the Los Angeles-based launch service provider has christened the second flight “Still Testing.” While the first flight carried no commercial payloads, “Still Testing” will ferry at least three small satellites to a highly inclined elliptical orbit.

Though the payloads are small, they represent an important milestone in Rocket Lab’s evolution. Riding to orbit on this flight are at least two Lemur-2 satellites as well as a single Dove satellite.

The Dove CubeSat, manufactured and operated by Planet Labs, will join Planet’s existing constellation of imaging satellites, adding to the company’s stable of hardware. Likewise, Spire‘s Lemur CubeSats will take their place among the company’s collection of weather and tracking satellites already on orbit.

While both satellite operators currently have sizable fleets and are no stranger to launches from other providers, Rocket Lab is working to stake its claim to the growing CubeSat launch market.

“The Still Testing flight is a significant milestone in opening access to space and unlocking the potential that holds in improving the everyday lives of millions of people,” concluded Beck.

The rocket is slated to undergo a final series of tests and check-outs in the coming weeks, during which time the company is expected to select a targeted launch date.

Video courtesy of Rocket Lab

 

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Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting – and safer – career field. He’s worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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