May 15th 10:00-12:05 UTC from launch complex 1 in New Zealand
For their twentieth Electron launch, Rocket Lab has stuck with their fun mission names. This time their “Toe” is the first this year in a series dedicated launches through Spaceflight Inc. for BlackSky, a leading provider of real time geospatial intelligence and global monitoring services. Two of BlackSky’s 60kg class satellites were launched today in support of scaling up their satellite constellation to meet demand for the global monitoring and analysis services for both public, and private organizations. The tiny satellites were supposed to join the three existing BlackSky sats launched by Rocket Lab from 2012 & 2020. Yet there was trouble on the live web cast, after the shutdown of the first stage and separation of the second stage appeared to tumble just after the engines ignited. Last we saw before the broadcast was shut off was the second stage engines cutting off.
The company had this to say in a tweet shortly after the incident, ” An issue was experienced during today’s launch, resulting in the loss of the mission. We are deeply sorry to our launch customers BlackSky and Spaceflight. The issue occurred shortly after stage two ignition. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”
Today’s mission was to be slightly different than the previous two this year in that the company would attempt to recover the first stage booster after it undertakes a series of complex maneuvers designed to enable the booster to survive the forces of re-entry into our Earth’s atmosphere. At this point it is unclear if the first stage was able to be recovered. Last November Rocket Lab attempted their first splashdown during the “Return to Sender” mission which provided crucial data on the actual stresses the Electron booster experienced during re-entry. They have since upgraded their vehicle with a superior heat shield to protect it from the enormous heat pressure during it’s descent. The company stated the new & improved stainless steel heat shield will be able to deal with thermal loads much more efficiently compared to the aluminum predecessor.
If this is the first you’re hearing about Rocket Lab or the Electron rocket, lets cover some of the information about the company. Founded in 2006 by Peter Beck Rocket Lab provides end to end mission services which provide not only frequent, but reliable access to space for civil, defense, and commercial markets. Their headquarters is located in Long Beach California, and currently operates the Electron rocket which is a small lift launch vehicle standing 59ft high and only 3.9ft in diameter. Made out of advanced carbon fiber composites the payload capacity to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) is 660lbs. With an Established track record Rocket Lab is one of only two U.S. commercial companies delivering regular access to orbit with ninety-seven satellites deployed for governments and private companies across sixteen nations. They are currently launching out of the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, were today’s launch took place, and are currently building a launch site at Wallops Island Virginia. They are planning a larger reusable rocket named “Nuetron” which should be ready in a few years time, but they currently have a proven Photon spacecraft platform already operating and mission booked to send payloads to the Moon, Mars, and Venus so far.