According to Rocket Lab, the source of an Electron launch malfunction over two months ago has been determined, and the vehicle is prepared to fly again. The Electron rocket launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 located in New Zealand on May 15 failed to reach orbit. The upper stage’s solitary Rutherford engine fired shortly after stage separation but seemed to shut down seconds afterward. A half-hour later, the corporation declared the vehicle is missing.
The underlying cause of the problem, according to Rocket Lab, was the rocket’s second-stage engine igniter mechanism. A malfunction with the igniter distorted signals in the stage computer, causing the thrust vector control mechanism to “stray outside nominal parameters” and the Rutherford engine to shut down.
According to the company, the igniter issue was caused by “a previously undetected failure mechanism within an ignition system that happens under a particular combination of environmental pressures and circumstances” that had gone unnoticed in previous engine testing or Electron launches. Engineers have recreated the issue in the lab and added “redundancies” to the ignition system, such as adjustments to the architecture of the igniter as well as how it will be manufactured, to avoid the situation from reoccurring.
The Electron, one of the most popular commercial small launch vehicles, had its second failure in less than a year. According to the company, electron’s launch in July 2020 was canceled due to a “anomalous electrical connection” in the second stage which had eluded acceptance testing. In less than two months, the Electron was back in the air.
Following that earlier mishap, Rocket Lab’s CEO, Peter Beck, stated that the business would take additional steps to increase overall dependability and address the particular problem that caused the failure. “We took a step back and looked at the entire vehicle,” he explained at the time. “As a result, we’ve made a bunch of adjustments to working guidelines and quality signoffs.”
Rocket Lab said at the time that they had recreated the malfunction in a lab and were continuing to work to comprehend the series of circumstances leading up to it and which steps they planned to take to rectify it. Beck said on June 2 that the latest launch failure was “complex” and required “a complicated and layered failure assessment.”
According to Rocket Lab, the second Electron will go “back on the pad” later in July, but it did not identify a release date or payload. According to a company representative, the launch window for the Electron’s return-to-flight operation will open later this month.