'I am incredibly sorry that we failed': Rocket Lab's 13th space mission didn't reach orbit on Saturday, losing 7 small satellites in the process

One of Rocket Lab's six-story Electron launch vehicles lifts off from New Zealand.Trevor Mahlmann/Rocket Lab
  • Rocket Lab, a private spaceflight company that launches smaller payloads from New Zealand, failed to deliver seven satellites to orbit on Saturday.
  • The company's Electron rocket failed when its upper stage was more than 120 miles above Earth.
  • Peter Beck, the CEO of Rocket Lab, publicly apologized for the loss of the vehicle and resolved to fly again soon.

Just minutes after successfully lifting off a launch pad in New Zealand on Saturday, one of Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicles failed to deliver seven satellites to orbit.

Rocket Lab, a small-launch company founded by CEO Peter Beck in 2006, had planned to deliver the batch of satellites for three different customers using the 56-foot-tall (17 meter) rocket.

However, just over 2 minutes after Electron's large first stage pulled away and its second or upper-stage engine ignited, the company's camera feed for the launch paused during a live broadcast on YouTube. Rocket Lab later said it'd totally lost the space mission, called "Pics Or It Didn't Happen."Advertisement

"An issue was experienced today during Rocket Lab's launch that caused the loss of the vehicle. We are deeply sorry to the customers on board Electron. The issue occurred late in the flight during the 2nd stage burn," the Auckland, New Zealand-based company tweeted after the failure.

Beck himself then delivered a public apology for the failure, which occurred during Rocket Lab's 13th orbital launch attempt.

"We lost the flight late into the mission. I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon," Beck tweeted on July 4.
Advertisement

The CEO also recorded a 92-second video, which Rocket Lab shared via its Twitter account.

"It's fair to say that today was a pretty tough day," Beck said in the clip, which addressed the public and the company's customers. "Believe me, we feel and we share your disappointment. However, we will leave no stone unturned to figure out exactly what happened today so that we can learn from it and get back to the pad safely."He added that "many Electron launch vehicles in production" and that the company is "ready for a rapid return to flight."Advertisement

Rocket Lab is one of a growing group of launch companies looking to slash the cost of sending shoe-box-size satellites to low Earth orbit, building smaller rockets and reinventing traditional production lines to meet a growing payload demand.

The company is exploring reuse of Electron rockets' boosters to lower costs, similar to how SpaceX lands and reuses its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets' boosters. However, Rocket Lab plans to use a helicopter to catch the returning first-stage rocket as it parachutes back to Earth.

The latest Electron rocket mission's altitude peaked at 121 miles (195 kilometers) roughly seven minutes after liftoff before quickly decreasing, according to in-flight telemetry on the company's live video feed.Advertisement

It was aiming to send five tiny Earth imaging satellites from Planet Labs, one microsatellite from Canon Electronics Inc., and a cubesat from British company In-Space Missions into a sun-synchronous orbit 310 miles above Earth.

"While it's never the outcome that we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one Planet is always prepared for," Planet Labs said in a statement on Saturday, adding it looked "forward to flying on the Electron again" in the future.

Prior to Saturday's failure — Rocket Lab's first loss of 12 operational missions thus far (its first mission, a test launch in 2017, did not reach orbit) — the company planned to launch its next Electron vehicle from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in August.Advertisement

Although engineers are investigating the cause of the latest mission's second-stage rocket failure, a company spokesperson told Business Insider the event "will likely have a minimal impact on schedule for our upcoming missions" but noted it's "too early to give new timings" for those launches.

Reporting from Reuters was contributed by Joey Roulette.

This story has been updated with new information.Advertisement

{{}}