Rocket Lab reschedules next Electron launch

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LOS ANGELES — Rocket Lab announced May 25 it has rescheduled the next launch of its Electron small rocket for late June after correcting a problem that delayed an April launch attempt.

That launch, dubbed “It’s Business Time” by the company because this is the first commercial Electron launch after two test flights, is now scheduled for no earlier than June 22 (U.S. time) from the company’s New Zealand launch site. Four-hour launch windows, opening at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, are available daily through July 5.

The company had planned to carry out the launch in April but postponed the launch after detecting a problem with a motor controller for a pump in one of the rocket’s nine first stage engines. At the time of that delay the company hoped to reschedule the launch for May, but diagnosing the problem took longer than expected.

“During the wet dress rehearsal we saw some really weird behavior in one of the motor controllers,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in an interview. “We couldn’t quite explain it. It was one of these faults that had a really non-obvious root cause.”

Beck said that the company decided to stand down until they could find and correct the motor controller problem. “The fix was actually relatively simple,” he said, not elaborating on the technical details. “It’s a really a change to process rather than to hardware.”

Part of the rocket is already back at the launch site, he said, with the rest arriving by May 28 to begin pre-launch preparations. Beck said that the company made no other changes to the rocket while correcting the motor controller issue.

Rocket Lab did use the delay to add two more satellites to the vehicle. One, Irvine01, is an educational payload developed by the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program, an organization that includes six high schools in Southern California. The other is NABEO, a payload developed by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmbH that will test a deployable drag sail that can be used to deorbit satellites.

Beck said that Rocket Lab was already in discussions about flying those satellites on a later mission when the opportunity opened up to include them on this launch. The company has been building up capabilities to quickly do the necessary analysis for integrating payloads on its rockets.

Those payloads join three others previously manifested on the rocket. Two are Lemur-2 satellites from Spire and one is a satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems for GeoOptics. All the payloads will be launched into an orbit of 250 by 500 kilometers at an inclination of 85 degrees, after which a Rocket Lab kick stage will circularize the orbit.

Despite the delay, Rocket Lab is still planning to reach a cadence of one launch a month this year. Beck said that the next launch, for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program, will be “pretty close on the heels” of this launch, but the company hasn’t announced a launch date for that mission yet.