Rocket Lab has experienced another setback in its mission to launch four next-generation radar-imaging satellites for Capella Space. The company’s Electron rocket, carrying the second Acadia satellite, failed to reach its intended orbit due to a problem with the second stage engine. This marks the fourth failure for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket in 41 flights.
The launch was scheduled to take place from Rocket Lab’s launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The Electron rocket, powered by its nine Rutherford first-stage engines, lifted off from pad B and headed off on a south-easterly trajectory. It was targeting a 635 km circular orbit inclined at 53 degrees to the Equator. This was the 41st orbital mission for the Electron rocket and the ninth during 2023.
After two minutes and 25 seconds, the Electron first stage separated, and the second stage’s single Rutherford vacuum engine was supposed to ignite. However, a problem occurred at this stage, leading to the mission’s failure. Rocket Lab has not provided specific details about the cause of the failure.
The Acadia satellites are part of Capella Space’s third-generation radar-imaging satellite series. These satellites are equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, enabling them to capture high-resolution images of Earth’s surface day and night, regardless of weather conditions. The SAR technology allows them to penetrate clouds, fog, smoke, and rain, providing valuable data for various applications.
The first Acadia satellite was launched successfully by Rocket Lab on August 23, 2023, and Capella Space reported a flawless commissioning for the satellite within a week of its deployment. The company released the first cloud-piercing radar imagery from the satellite on August 31, showcasing views of roller coasters at amusement parks in the U.S. and Japan.
Despite the recent setback, Rocket Lab remains committed to its mission of providing affordable and frequent access to space for small satellites. The company has built a reputation for its Electron rocket, which is designed to cater to the growing demand for dedicated rideshare missions. Rocket Lab has successfully deployed over 100 small satellites to orbit since its first launch in May 2017.
Rocket Lab will now conduct a thorough investigation into the failure to understand the cause and implement any necessary improvements. The company aims to continue with its launch manifest and ensure the successful deployment of the remaining Acadia satellites for Capella Space.
Although setbacks are not uncommon in the aerospace industry, Rocket Lab’s dedication to delivering reliable and cost-effective launch services remains steadfast. As the company learns from each failure and iterates on its technology, it is poised to make significant contributions to the growing small satellite market.