Rocket Lab’s new Electron rocket did not reach orbit during its first flight test in May because a ground-equipment problem forced the flight to be ended early, the company announced Aug. 7.

While the two-stage rocket made it into space after lifting off from a company launch site in New Zealand (Defense Daily, May 25), data-gathering equipment owned and operated by an independent contractor temporarily lost contact with the rocket four minutes into the flight, requiring range safety officials to terminate the test before it was finished, Rocket Lab engineers concluded. The investigation determined that the telemetry equipment, which tracked the rocket’s performance, failed because it was misconfigured.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket lifts off in its first flight test. (Courtesy of Rocket Lab)
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off in its first flight test. (Courtesy of Rocket Lab)

“The fix for this issue is simple and corrective procedures have been put in place to prevent a similar issue in the future,” Rocket Lab said. “No major changes to the Electron launch vehicle hardware have been required and the company has authorized the production of four additional launch vehicles.”

Rocket Lab said its own telemetry systems verified the Electron’s capabilities and give it “high confidence” in the rocket. The second Electron is undergoing final checks and will be shipped to the New Zealand launch site “shortly.”

Rocket Lab, which is based in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Auckland, New Zealand, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which licensed the launch, has overseen the investigation and will review the findings. The FAA had no immediate comment.

Rocket Lab ultimately plans to use the Electron to deliver small satellites to low Earth orbit and launch more than 50 times a year. NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight have signed up as customers.

Vector Space Systems, one of Rocket Lab’s competitors in the small-satellite launcher business, announced Aug. 3 that it completed a suborbital flight of a full-scale prototype of its Vector-R rocket at the Spaceport Camden in Georgia. Arizona-based Vector hopes to achieve an orbital capability in 2018.

Another competitor, Virgin Orbit, of Long Beach, Calif., said it received FAA permission in late July to begin flight-testing Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing [BA] 747-400 that will fire the LauncherOne rocket. LauncherOne’s first flight is slated for the first half of 2018.