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Rocket Lab Electron fails to reach orbit

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket failed to reach orbit after an anomaly during the "We Will Never Desert You" mission on Sept. 19. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket failed to reach orbit after an anomaly during the “We Will Never Desert You” mission on Sept. 19. Credit: Rocket Lab

The eighth orbital launch attempt of 2023 for Rocket Lab’s Electron ended in failure because of an anomaly that occurred moments after stage separation, some 2.5 minutes into flight.

The mission “We Will Never Desert You” lifted off at 2:55 a.m. EDT (06:55 UTC) Sept. 19 from Launch Complex 1B at New Zealand’s Mahia peninsula. The first stage of the 59-foot (18-meter) tall Electron rocket appeared to perform nominally. However, moments after stage separation, the upper stage’s lone vacuum-optimized Rutherford engine appeared to have trouble starting as sparks were briefly seen before the video feed froze.

Telemetry then appeared to show the vehicle losing speed and altitude.

“We are working closely with the FAA and supporting agencies as the investigation into the root cause commences,” a Rocket Lab statement about the incident reads. “The Electron rocket has previously delivered 171 satellites to orbit across 37 successful orbital missions. We will identify the issue swiftly and implement corrective actions and return to the pad shortly.”

Rocket Lab has flown its Electron rocket 41 times since 2017, including a planned sub-orbital mission from Virginia in June of this year.

Aboard this mission was a 364-pound (165 kilogram) satellite for Capella Space. It was the second of four planned dedicated launches for the remote-sensing company. The other two flights were planned for later this year.

However, Rocket Lab said it is postponing flights until corrective actions are implemented.

The last time an Electron rocket failed during flight was in May 2021 during the “Running Out of Toes” mission. In total, including the inaugural flight of the vehicle, there have been four failures.

“My deepest apologies to our mission partners Capella Space,” Peter Beck posted on social media. “Team is already working on root cause. We’ll find it, fix it and be back on the pad quickly.

Video courtesy of Rocket Lab


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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