Rocket Lab launch aborted at engine start

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Capitalism in space: The second test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket was aborted just after engine start today (December 12 in New Zealand).

Members of Rocket Lab’s launch team called out ignition of the first stage’s engines as the countdown ticked off the final few seconds before liftoff, followed by an abort.

“Umbilicals in, power’s all up,” one member of the launch team called out over a loop broadcast on Rocket Lab’s live video stream. “Confirm Stage 1 engines have stopped,” an engineer later announced.

A countdown graphic on Rocket Lab’s video feed stopped at T-minus 2 seconds. “As you can see, the vehicle had an abort during the launch auto sequence,” said Daniel Gillies, Rocket Lab’s mission management and integration director who provided commentary on the company’s webcast. “At this stage of flight, the vehicle flight computer is actively monitoring a wide range of vehicle performance parameters, and when any of these parameters are violated, the vehicle determines that its not ready of flight and holds the count.”

The rocket is fine. Though they have not said what caused the abort, they have set their next launch attempt for two days from now, in the evening in the U.S.



  • Edward

    I watched it live (Thank you, Robert, for the link). Quite a disappointment. It looked more like they were practicing a countdown up to engine ignition rather than testing an orbital flight.

    From the article: “Umbilicals in, power’s all up.

    I think it was the book “The Right Stuff” that has a tale of one US rocket that shut down on the pad when the umbilicals released, as planned, just before the rocket lifted off (one pin was shorter than another, and the onboard computer interpreted the unsymmetric disconnect as a problem), leaving the launch team with a fully fueled rocket on the pad and no way to defuel it. Now, NASA releases the umbilicals when the rocket gets a couple of inches off the pad, because it is not coming back safely at that point.

    Clearly, Rocket Lab has learned that lesson vicariously. That is very wise of them.

    I noticed a recent Falcon launch held its umbilicals for several feet of climb, which I assume is to give a few extra seconds of fueling during engine operation.

  • Edward: Could the US rocket that you are thinking of be the Gemini 6 launch abort, when Wally Schirra made the instantaneous decision not to activate the capsule abort system that would have flung the capsule from the launch pad?

  • wayne

    is this what you guys are talking about?

    “How Did Gemini 6A Survive a Launch Abort?”

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman asked: “Could the US rocket that you are thinking of be the Gemini 6 launch abort“?

    I don’t think so, or else it was not in the book I thought it was (I will definitely have to reread “The Right Stuff”).

    I think that it is the incident of an unmanned test flight in which the parachute popped off the spacecraft while it still sat on the pad (after the escape tower launched itself without the capsule/spacecraft, depending upon whether you were the astronaut or the engineer). See the last rocket test failure in this clip from the movie (or fast forward to the 2 minute mark): (3 minutes)

    But those early days were fraught with problems, so it could have been quite a number of launches.

  • Edward

    I will also have to reread Gene Kranz’s “Failure Is Not An Option,” because he relates a whole bunch of tales of test engineering woe, so maybe it was in that book. (I especially like how the sentences get shorter and read faster as Apollo 11 is having unexpected problems during its descent. That writing style increased the excitement and tension of the story. When the CapCom says that a bunch of people were turning blue, he was not kidding.) His book came out about the time that I was getting into test engineering, so it was especially interesting.

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