Rocket Lab, a California-based aerospace company, has determined the likely cause of the failure during its September 19 launch. The incident resulted in the loss of a commercial Earth-observing satellite. Since then, Rocket Lab has been conducting an investigation to pinpoint the anomaly.
According to Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck, the cause of the failure was a complex set of conditions that are challenging to replicate during testing. The investigation team’s findings indicate that an electrical arc occurred within the power supply system, leading to a short circuit in the battery packs that provide power to the upper stage of Rocket Lab’s launch vehicle.
The Electron rocket, standing at 59 feet tall, is designed to transport small satellites to Earth orbit and beyond. Rocket Lab’s mission on September 19 was to deliver a synthetic aperture radar satellite for Capella Space, a San Francisco-based company. The issue occurred approximately 2.5 minutes after liftoff when the Rutherford engine of Electron’s second stage was set to ignite.
Despite the ongoing investigation overseen by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Rocket Lab’s launch license remains active. The company expects to conclude its investigation in the coming weeks, following the identification of the probable root cause and implementation of corrective measures. Rocket Lab plans to resume launches starting from November 28, 2023, with a launch window extending into December.
The upcoming mission has been scheduled by iQPS, an Earth-imaging company based in Japan. Rocket Lab has successfully completed 41 launches so far, deploying a total of 177 satellites into orbit. This recent failure on September 19 followed a previous mishap in May 2021.