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Rocket Lab Suffers Second Stage Failure

Electron’s second stage experiences an anomaly onboard during second stage separation and ignition.
Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab has suffered a fourth failure of their Electron small launch vehicle this morning while carrying Capella Space’s Acadia-1 synthetic aperture radar satellite as part of their “We Will Never Desert You” mission, with the mission being declared a total loss. 

The vehicle lifted off from LC-1B in Mahia, New Zealand at 6:55 UTC and carried out a nominal first stage ascent before failing to light the second stage, shown briefly on the livestream for the mission. Several hours after launch, Rocket Lab issued the following statement: 

“Rocket Lab USA, Inc. today experienced an issue during the launch of the Company’s 41st mission. Following lift-off from Launch Complex 1, the rocket successfully completed a first stage burn and stage separation as planned, before an issue was experienced at around T+ 2 minutes and 30 seconds into flight, resulting in the end of the mission.

We are deeply sorry to our partners Capella Space for the loss of the mission.

We are working closely with the FAA and supporting agencies as the investigation into the root cause commences. 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.

Our next mission, currently scheduled before the end of the third quarter, will be postponed while we implement corrective actions. We anticipate providing revised third quarter revenue guidance in the coming days.

Electron’s success record since ironing out issues in the early days of flight has been consistent, with 19 successful missions since May of 2021. This failure comes at a time where Rocket Lab and Electron had been hitting their stride, demonstrating critical reuse pathways that promise to enable more affordable launches as the company prepares for their new larger vehicle, Neutron. The company also took a significant financial hit, with their stock plunging 26% immediately after the launch failure – a unique vulnerability of publicly traded companies in the aerospace sector. 

Rocket Lab has several more missions on the manifest for the remainder of this year including their suborbital HASTE launches, however these remain uncertain in the face of the investigation. 

Correction: Electron was carrying 1 of 4 synthetic aperture radar satellites for Capella Space, not 4.

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