Technical problem scrubs Rocket Lab Electron launch

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RENTON, Wash. — Rocket Lab scrubbed the launch of its Electron rocket June 26 after detecting a problem with the vehicle similar to one that postponed an earlier launch attempt.

The company, headquartered in the United States but with launch operations in New Zealand, was on track to launch an Electron rocket at 10:10 p.m. Eastern June 26 (2:10 p.m. local time June 27). However, less than a half-hour before the scheduled launch, the company announced that the launch was scrubbed because of a problem with a motor controller on the vehicle.

The problem, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said shortly after the scrub, appeared similar to an earlier problem. “Looks like we did not totally resolve the controller from last attempt. Similar behavior,” he tweeted. The company has not yet disclosed additional details about the problem or announced a new launch date.

The launch was originally scheduled for a window that opened mid-April. Several days before the launch, though, Rocket Lab said a problem detected during a wet dress rehearsal, a test countdown where the rocket is fueled but not launched, led them to postpone the launch.

The company later said the problem with a motor controller for one of the nine first-stage engines. “We couldn’t quite explain it. It was one of these faults that had a really non-obvious root cause,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a May 24 interview.

Beck said the company eventually tracked down the problem but did not elaborate on the specific issue. “The fix was actually relatively simple,” he said. “It’s a really a change to process rather than to hardware.”

Rocket Lab rescheduled the launch for June 22 (June 23 local time), but the company postponed that launch because of a problem with a tracking station downrange. Poor weather pushed the next launch attempt to June 26. The company has four-hour windows available daily through July 5.

The Electron, flying its first commercial launch after two earlier test flights, is carrying five satellites. Two are Lemur-2 satellites from Spire and one is a satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems for GeoOptics, which were originally announced as the payloads for the “It’s Business Time” mission.

When Rocket Lab announced a rescheduled date for the mission May 25, the company added two more payloads. 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 hosted payload developed by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmbH that will test a deployable drag sail that can be used to orbit satellites. 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.