The launch of the “Still Testing” Electron rocket from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand was aborted by onboard computers immediately after first-stage ignition at 03:50 GMT (10:50 EST on Dec. 11). Although no official reason has been given for the aborted launch, Rocket Lab has rescheduled the launch for early Thursday morning with the launch window opening at 01:30 GMT (20:30 EST).
Rocket Lab raced to this morning’s launch of “Still Testing” just months after the partial success of their first launch of the Electron rocket. The remarkably quick turnaround was meant to mark a significant milestone in the development of the launch vehicle.
“As the name suggests, we are still very much in a test phase, but this flight is a significant milestone for our team and the next step in our mission to democratize space,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck.
Although on the surface today’s aborted launch appears to be unrelated to the “telemetry error” that hindered the first launch from reaching orbit, the company appears to be struggling with reliability. However, it is important to remember that even the king of commercial launch providers, SpaceX failed a few times before they got it right.
Rocket Lab was founded with the aim of opening up the launch market to smaller customers seeking to deploy small payloads like CubeSats into orbit. The concept is not a new as SpaceX was founded with the exactly the same target market in mind. The launch provider has completely moved away from small payload launches citing the lack or real customers. Rocket Lab and their Electron launch vehicle are, as a result, betting on the idea that Elon Musk was just too early.
Following an investigation of the aborted launch, Rocket Lab released an official statement on the cause of the failed launch on the company’s Twitter handle.
Analysis of yesterday's launch attempt is complete. Launch was aborted due to rising liquid oxygen temperatures – the result of a LOx chilldown bleed schedule not compatible with the warm conditions of the day. The fix is simple. Next attempt tomorrow! #StillTesting
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) December 13, 2017
Image Credit: Rocket Lab