Rocket Lab returns to flight less than two months after launch failure

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Small satellite launcher Rocket Lab successfully returned to flight late Sunday night, less than two months after the company’s previous mission failed to reach orbit during launch. The company’s primary rocket, the Electron, took off from Rocket Lab’s launch facility in New Zealand, deploying a small Earth-observing satellite into orbit around Earth.

The launch marked a quick turnaround for Rocket Lab after its failed launch on July 4th. During that mission, the company’s Electron also took off from New Zealand, carrying seven small satellites into space. But just a few minutes into the flight, a faulty electrical connection set off a chain reaction of events that caused the engine on the upper portion of the rocket to shut down early. As a result, the Electron failed to achieve orbit and fell back to Earth. The vehicle then burned up in the planet’s atmosphere, effectively destroying all of the satellites on board.

The failure marked the biggest mishap yet for Rocket Lab since the company started commercial missions in 2018. But by late July, Rocket Lab said that it had isolated the problem and that the Federal Aviation Administration had given the company permission to start launching again.

Sunday’s mission marked Rocket Lab’s 14th successful launch. The Electron lofted just one small satellite called Sequoia for operator Capella Space, designed to observe Earth with synthetic aperture radar. It’s Capella Space’s first satellite available for customer use. The company plans to launch a constellation of these spacecraft into orbit. As a nod to its payload, Rocket Lab nicknamed this launch “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical.”

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