Rocket Lab scrubs Electron launch after last-second abort

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NEW ORLEANS — Rocket Lab scrubbed a launch of its Electron small launch vehicle Dec. 11 after an abort just two seconds before liftoff.

The company scrubbed the launch attempt several minutes after computers triggered the abort, immediately after the rocket’s nine first-stage engines ignited at 10:50 p.m. Eastern (4:50 p.m. Dec. 12 local time). The engines shut down and the rocket was secured.

Rocket Lab did not disclose the issue that caused the abort. The company had not reported any serious issues in the final minutes of the countdown that, unlike the first Electron launch in May, was publicly webcast. In a later statement, a company spokesperson said that the next launch attempt would be on the evening of Dec. 13, citing poor weather forecast for a Dec. 12 attempt.

Rocket Lab opened a 10-day window for this second launch, dubbed “Still Testing,” on Dec. 7. The company said inclement weather at the company’s launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula prevented earlier launch attempts. The company postponed a launch Dec. 10 shortly after that day’s four-hour window opened, blaming both approaching weather and a conjunction assessment linked to the International Space Station that would have limited the launch window to just six minutes, the company claimed.

Electron is a small launch vehicle developed by Rocket Lab, a U.S.-headquartered company with operations in New Zealand. The rocket’s first launch in May failed to reach orbit, which the company later said was due to a telemetry error in range safety systems and not a flaw with the rocket itself.

While this launch is a test flight, it is carrying a payload of three satellites. Two of the satellites are Lemur-2 cubesats by Spire, which operates a constellation of ship-tracking and weather satellites. The third is a Dove cubesat by Planet, a company that has more than 150 Earth imaging satellites.

Rocket Lab originally planned to carry out three test flights of Electron before beginning commercial service. However, the company says it may skip a third test launch if this mission is successful.