Four weeks after suffering an anomaly that resulted in the failure of the mission, the Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle has been cleared to return to flight. The vehicle will return to the skies not as it was but more capable than ever before with an increased payload capacity and soon, the ability to be recovered and reused.
Rocket Lab launched its thirteenth Electron flight on July 4, 2020 carrying seven small satellites. Although the launch initially appeared to be successful, an anomaly late into flight ultimately resulted in its failure.
Following the incident, Rocket Lab conducted a full investigation with support from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In a July 31 press release, Rocket Lab revealed that the cause of the failure had been identified as a single faulty electrical connection.
“The issue occurred under incredibly specific and unique circumstances, causing the connection to fail in a way that we wouldn’t detect with standard testing,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “Our team has now reliably replicated the issue in test and identified that it can be mitigated through additional testing and procedures.”
With the investigation concluded successfully, Rocket Lab has been given FAA approval to return the Electron launch vehicle to flight in August.
When the Electron launch vehicle returns to flight, it will be more capable than ever before. In addition to reusability upgrades Rocket Lab had revealed earlier this year, the vehicle will now also boast a 33% increase in payload capacity.
In an August 4 press release, Rocket Lab explained that the performance boost had been achieved through advances in the battery technology that power the vehicle’s Rutherford engines’ electric pumps. This allowed the company to push the vehicle’s payload capacity to low Earth orbit from 225 to 300 kilograms. It will also allow the rocket to push payloads beyond the confines of Earth and into our solar system for interplanetary missions.