Tue. Sep 26th, 2023
Rocket Lab Electron Fails During Capella Space Satellite Launch

A Rocket Lab Electron launch carrying the Capella Space radar imaging satellite experienced a failure on September 19. The launch took place at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, following a 20-minute delay due to space weather conditions. The liftoff and ascent of the first stage appeared to be normal, but live video from the second stage was lost right after separation. Telemetry data suggested that the engine malfunctioned.

This is the third failure for the Electron rocket in just over three years. The previous failures were attributed to problems with the upper stage. In July 2020, an Electron failed to reach orbit due to a faulty electrical connection. In May 2021, another launch was unsuccessful when the engine shut down seconds after ignition.

The recent failure raises concerns about the reliability of the Electron rocket and Rocket Lab’s ability to increase its launch rate. The company had planned to conduct 15 Electron missions this year. The payload for this failed launch was the second Acadia synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellite developed by Capella Space. The first Acadia satellite was successfully launched on an Electron in August.

Capella Space CEO, Payam Banazadeh, stated that the first Acadia satellite is already in commercial operations and more launches are planned in the future. The Acadia satellites are larger than previous generations, weighing around 150 kilograms. This decision was based on the decreasing cost and increasing availability of launch. Capella prioritizes data quality over launching more satellites.

The failure of the Electron launch raises questions about Rocket Lab’s rocket reliability and its ability to meet launch targets. Despite this setback, Rocket Lab remains a leading player in the small launch vehicle market among Western operators.