The Rocket Lab electron rocket launches on July 4, 2020.
Little rocket maker Rocket Lab returns to the launchpad in August when the company diagnosed the cause of its recent launch failure and received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to continue launching.
"We were able to quickly reconstruct what happened, and the [investigative] panel could certainly narrow the problem down to a single connection," said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, to reporters during a Friday briefing.
The company's Electron rocket launched its 13th mission on July 4 with seven small satellites flying into orbit. Despite the scheduled launch phase, the missile never reached its destination because the missile's engine was shut down due to an electrical system interruption. According to Rocket Lab, the root of the problem was an unsecured electrical system that caused the part to overheat and then melt during flight.
In addition to FAA investigators, the company checked over 25,000 data channels from the start to determine the cause of the accident.
"This interruption was incredibly unusual because it could avoid all pre-flight acceptance tests," said Beck. "It's a very sneaky and tricky problem to look for."
According to Beck, Rocket Lab built more than 720 of these electrical components. The company has made a "minor change" to its production process and will investigate the problem in the missiles it has built.
"Anyone flying Electron now will fly a more reliable vehicle than before," said Beck.
The first US launch is pending
Rocket Lab is the industry leader in building and launching small rockets, targeting the growing market of satellites and spacecraft that are between the size of a toaster and a refrigerator. The Electron rocket costs approximately $ 7 million per launch and is 55 feet high, or approximately one-fifth the size of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Founded in 2006, the company employs around 600 people, is supported by a VC company, and has increased its valuation to over $ 1.2 billion in recent years. It is based in Long Beach, California, but was founded by Beck in New Zealand and has a privately built launchpad.
Beck said that "there was a financial loss" from the July 4th failure, "because we don't start." But he downplayed the importance of this loss, saying that it was "not a big deal" and that the company still set aside cash from its $ 140 million financing round in November 2019.
Rocket Lab has launched its electron rocket 12 times. It first entered orbit in January 2018 and is approaching launches from a second pad in Virginia. The first launch from this US site called LC-2 will be "a few weeks" after the launch in August, Beck said.
"We haven't started this month yet, and we're trying to get a one-month cadence so we're at least four weeks behind," added Beck.
So far, the company has successfully provided 53 user data.
In addition, the company expanded into the spacecraft business last year with its Photon satellite platform. The business expanded with the construction of satellite hardware, and major milestones were reached earlier this year in developing a system to reuse its missiles by tearing them from the sky with parachutes and a helicopter.
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