Electron on pad
The second Electron rocket, dubbed "Still Testing," is scheduled to launch during a 10-day window that opens Dec. 8 from the company's New Zealand test site. Credit: Rocket Lab

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab announced Jan. 11 it plans to make another attempt to launch its Electron small rocket on its second mission later this month.

Rocket Lab said the nine-day launch window for the mission at its New Zealand launch site will open at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 20 local time (8:30 p.m. Jan. 19 Eastern time). There will be a four-hour window each day, opening at the same time, for the launch.

The company, headquartered in the United States but with launch and other operations in New Zealand, attempted to carry out the launch during a 10-day window in December. However, several attempts were postponed by poor weather. The company came closest to launching Dec. 11, when computers aborted a launch attempt just two seconds before liftoff after sensors detected liquid oxygen temperatures above preset limits in one of the first stage’s nine engines.

In a Jan. 11 interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said the company stood down at the end of last month’s window, rather than attempt to extend it, to give employees a break over the Christmas holidays. “We were conscious to give our team a decent rest after a big year,” he said.

There are no major changes planned for this launch opportunity versus last month’s attempt, he said. “The issues we had technically were minor,” he said. The high-altitude winds that scrubbed several attempts would likely have not been an issue for regular operations, he added, but the company wants “the best initial conditions” for this test flight.

Rocket Lab launched the Electron, designed to place up to 150 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit, for the first time last May. The rocket failed to reach orbit, which the company blamed on a telemetry problem that triggered range safety systems about four minutes after liftoff, and not a problem with the rocket itself.

The rocket is carrying instrumentation as well as three cubesats, two from Spire and one from Planet. Should the launch be successful, Beck said Rocket Lab will move ahead with commercial missions. The next Electron will be at the pad as soon as February, although he did not disclose who the customer would be for that mission if it is a commercial flight.

“Right now the focus is just to get through this test flight, and then we’ll start the commercial manifest for the year,” he said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...