Rocket Lab’s 20th Electron mission ends with stage two failure

Rocket Lab underwent its second launch failure within a year. the company said its 20th Electron mission (“Running out of Toes”) suffered an “anomaly” shortly after the second stage was ignited, losing both the vehicle and the payloads of BlackSky’s Earth observation satellite. Staff are still investigating the cause, although the images (below) suggest the second stage may have stopped as part of an automated response to an outage.

The first stage crashed into the ocean as planned, and Rocket Lab was hoping to recover the vehicle. The second leg continued along its intended flight lane and posed no risk to anyone.

CEO Peter Beck apologized to BlackSky and promised Rocket Lab would identify the cause. The team planned to be “safely back on the mat” as soon as possible, he said. As usual, Rocket Lab has several vehicles in production and might not face a long delay. It only took several weeks for Rocket Lab to resume the flight after its failure in July 2020.

Rocket Lab has mostly been successful so far, with 17 of its missions in orbit. This latest issue won’t help the business in the short term, however, and it’s a reminder that spaceflight startups tend to encounter problems early, regardless of their engineering skills – SpaceX took years to iron out flaws in its reusable rocket, and there were months of botched launches before Starship landed in one piece just a few days ago. It may take more refinement before Rocket Lab can put its difficulties firmly in the past.

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