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Rocket Lab launch fails

Rocket Lab’s launch yesterday of its Electron rocket failed when the upper stage began tumbling right after stage separation and engine start.

This was the second Electron failure in twenty launches. The last, in July 2020, was also caused by a problem in the upper stage, though far less dramatic. In that case an electric failure caused the upper stage engine to shut down prematurely before it had reached orbit.

Though the launch was a failure, the recovery of the first stage as part of Rocket Lab’s effort to make it reusable appears to be proceeding as planned. According to the company’s statement:

Electron’s first stage safely completed a successful splashdown under parachute and Rocket Lab’s recovery team is working to retrieve the stage from the ocean as planned.

I have embedded below the fold the Rocket Lab live feed, cued to just before the failure. You can see that as soon as the upper stage fires it begins to tumble.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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  • mkent

    This was the second Electron failure in twenty launches.

    Third. And the second within the past year. That puts Electron reliability down in the classic Atlas range, which wasn’t all that good even back in the day. It’s well below classic Delta, Titan II, Scout, and even Thor.

    I hope they can recover from this. With their second failure in less than a year after a longer string of successes, I’m beginning to wonder if their focus on recovery has caused them to get sloppy. They need to focus on reliability first, launch rate second, and recovery a very distant third.

  • Jeff Wright

    Upper stages, being smaller, can get away from you quickly. The computer being faster than the plumbing, as it were.

    That’s where old space comes into its own. I remember footage of a kinetic kill vehicle hovering rock steady over a net when Armadillo rocketlings were freaking out all over the place. KKV and Clementine where where JPL got some of their thruster tech, we’re I to hazard a guess.

    At a small scale, the weight of a bead of welding might be all it takes to throw things off.

  • Chris

    Jeff Wright – For a smaller rocket would a spin test post production and pre launch be a possibility?

  • Tom

    At the 1:31:05 mark you can see the second stage engine bell “gimbled” over to one side (the right) when it should have been straight. Scott Manly did a comparison using a the image of an earlier successful flight taken just before stage separation and you can see the difference. The second stage was doomed before the engine lit off.

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