Data blamed for orbit fail - Rocket Lab

  • 08/08/2017
The fix was simple and steps had been taken to prevent a repeat.
The fix was simple and steps had been taken to prevent a repeat. Photo credit: Twitter, file

US-New Zealand aerospace company Rocket Lab is blaming a contractor for data problems, which forced it to terminate the flight of its first rocket launch earlier this year.

The Electron rocket, designed to carry small satellites into low orbit cheaper than current alternatives, successfully launched from the remote Mahia Peninsula, between Napier and Gisborne, in May, but it didn't reach orbit as planned and the flight was terminated.

The company this week said it had reviewed the launch data and found the problem lay with an independent contractor's equipment.

Four minutes into the flight, at an altitude of 224 km, the equipment lost contact with the rocket temporarily and, according to standard operating procedures, safety officials terminated the flight.

The contractor "failed to enable forward error correction on this third-party device causing extensive corruption of received position data", Rocket Lab said.

The fix was simple and steps had been taken to prevent a repeat.

Rocket Lab was confident ahead of a second launch. Its second Electron rocket, named "Still Testing", is undergoing final checks ahead of being shipped to Mahia.

"We have demonstrated Electron was following its nominal trajectory and was on course to reach orbit," said Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck.

"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."

The Federal Aviation Administration, the primary body responsible for licensing the launch, has overseen Rocket Lab's investigation and will review the findings.

No major changes to the Electron launch vehicle hardware had been required and the company had approved building four more launch vehicles.