Rocket Lab delays second test launch until early 2018

"Still Testing" in position for launch on the Mahia Peninsula. Unlike the first test launch, the second will be live-streamed.

RELATED AUDIO: Rocket Lab's Peter Beck on his company's second test launch (Sept 26)

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UPDATE Dec 16: Rocket Lab has delayed its second test flight of the Electron rocket until early 2018.

Corrective measures have been put in place for the power fault discovered during ground checkouts yesterday, the company says.

However with only one day remaining in the launch window Rocket Lab has made the decision to delay an attempt until the new year.

The current launch window ends on Sunday and will not to be extended in order to preserve crew rest, Rocket Lab says.

New ‘Still Testing’ launch window dates will be released when established early in the new year.

Rocket Lab scrubs Friday launch, may extend window
UPDATE Dec 15:
Rocket Lab scrubbed today's launch attempt following the identification of a power fault during ground checkouts.

It was the third failed attempt during a 10-day launch window, with several days also lost to bad weather.

It is possible the launch window, which currently ends December 17, could be extended into next week to allow for a later launch attempt, the company says.

Engineers will conduct investigations at Launch Complex-1 and determine what corrective actions may be required before a new attempt is made in coming days, Rocket Lab says.

Rocket Lab will not attempt a launch tomorrow (Saturday, Dec 16) while the team works through the fault.

Rocket Lab scrubs Thursday launch due to high wind
UPDATE Dec 14 / 3.30pm:
Rocket Lab says it has scrubbed today's launch due to high winds.
The company will make another attempt tomorrow as its 10-day launch window -- which began on December 8 -- continues.

Rocket Lab reveals reason for Tuesday launch abort
UPDATE Dec 13 / 3pm:
Rocket Lab has completed analysis of the Electron test flight abort that occurred during the company’s ‘Still Testing’ launch attempt yesterday.

In short, the main problem was that the weather was warmer than anticipated.

The analysis determined the launch was aborted due to rising liquid oxygen (LOx) temperatures feeding into one of the Electron’s nine Rutherford engines on the vehicle’s first stage. Rocket Lab has implemented corrective actions ahead of the next launch attempt, which is currently targeted for no earlier than 2.30 pm tomorrow  

The slight LOx temperature increase was a result of a LOx chilldown bleed schedule that was not compatible with the warm conditions of the day at Launch Complex-1, the company says. 

Rocket Lab has modified the bleed schedule to ensure components are sufficiently chilled ahead of a new launch attempt tomorrow.

While the temperatures were within safe parameters for launch, Rocket Lab had set conservative parameters for the test flight campaign that led to the vehicle performing a safe auto-sequence abort at two seconds prior to lift-off.

The abort caused no damage to the vehicle or launch pad infrastructure, with the vehicle performing exactly as expected in accordance with the launch criteria, Rocket Lab says.

CEO and founder Peter Beck says the rapid and safe abort was yet another advantage of Rocket Lab’s advanced electric-turbopump engine technology, which can shutdown significantly faster than traditional turbopump engines. 

“Electron performed as it should if it detects anything off-nominal during the auto-sequence and the electric turbopumps shut down in milliseconds. Our team developed very advanced systems to prevent launch if any one of thousands of factors isn’t perfectly aligned, and yesterday we proved those systems are performing well,” he says..

Mahia, we have a problem: Rocket Lab scrubs Tuesday launch 
UPDATE Dec 12 / 5.45pm
: Rocket Lab has just released the following statement: "Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle aborted a test launch attempt 0:02 seconds from lift-off at Launch Complex-1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on Tuesday 12 December. The vehicle performed a safe auto-sequence abort at 4:50 pm NZDT, as expected if all sensors are not nominal.

"Rocket Lab has made the decision to scrub any further attempts for the remainder of the day while the team reviews data.

"The weather is not favourable for a launch attempt tomorrow, so Rocket Lab is targeting a new launch attempt no earlier than 2.30 pm, Thursday 14 December NZDT."

Spokeswoman Morgan Bailey tells NBR a Rocket Lab team is working through the launch data and will likely make a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

UPDATE Dec 12 / 4.55pm: Rocket Lab's launch of "Still Testing" was aborted just as the countdown reached zero. 

After the 4.45pm abort, the company initially said it would make a second lift-off attempt before its 6pm launch window closed for today but just a few minutes later there came an announcement that the flight had been scrubbed.

No immediate reason was given for the abort. 

Rocket Lab is in the midst of a 10-day launch window that began on December 8.

UPDATE Dec 12 / 1.30pm: Rocket Lab says weather conditions in Mahia are favourable for a launch today, targetted for 4pm [UPDATE: the lift-off has now slipped to 4.50pm].

The startup, which now bills itself as "a US aerospace company with operations in New Zealand," says if the weather cooperates, the launch will be live streamed via www.rocketlabusa.com/live-stream plus the company's Facebook and YouTube accounts,

The billion-dollar startup's second test rocket, dubbed ‘Still Testing’ will take off from Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula.

Although dubbed as a test flight, it will also be Rocket Lab's first commercial flight, carrying four satellites into low Earth orbit:  two earth-imaging Dove satellites for Planet and two Lemur-2 satellites from Spire for weather mapping and ship traffic tracking.

UPDATE/Dec 11 / 2.45pm: Rocket Lab has scrubbed its launch for today. "Weather factors and orbital traffic mean opportunities for launch today are tight, so we'll try again tomorrow." the company says in a statement.

Spokeswoman Morgan Bailey adds, "The scrub was called shortly after the window opened at 2.30 pm NZDT. A combination of poor weather closing in and conjunction with the International Space Station left a narrow six-minute window for a launch attempt. The decision was made to hold off on an attempt today and a new attempt will be made no earlier than 2.30 PM, Tuesday, December 12 NZDT, provided conditions are optimal for launch."

UPDATE/Nov 30: Rocket Lab’s says a 10-day window for its second launch will open on December 8. During this time a four-hour launch window will open daily from 2:30pm.

Although the second Electron rocket to launch from the Kiwi-American company's Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula is called "It's still a test," it will also be the real thing in that it will carry two commercial satellites into low earth orbit (see below).


Watch the full video on Peter Beck's NBR Radar profile by pressing the play button

As with the first test launch, there will be no public viewing. In fact, there will be road closures around Mahia at certain times, which will be detailed at www.rocketlabusa.com/launch/launch-updates.

However, unlike the first launch, it will be livestreamed. A stream will open to the public 15 minutes before launch at www.rocketlabusa.com.

Rocket Lab originally slated its second test for October.

Communications manager Morgan Bailey says the delays have involved "just putting the vehicle through its final test paces. October was always an estimate for having the vehicle on site."

On a footnote, the billion-dollar company — which moved its registration to the US and corporate headquarters to California after Lockheed Martin and other US investors bought in —  changed its description with its press release today.

It now bills itself as "Rocket Lab, a US aerospace company with operations in New Zealand."

READ ALSO: 

Above and below: Rocket Lab's second test Electron rocket, "Still Testing," at its launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula.

EARLIER/Sept 26: Rocket Lab's second test launch to carry weather, mapping satellites
Kiwi-American company Rocket Lab will stage its second launch in October – and there's a twist: The flight will carry satellites for two commercial customers.

The billion-dollar startup's second test rocket, dubbed ‘Still Testing’ will take off from Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula. The rocket will be rolled on to the launch pad on a yet-to-be-named day in October.

The Electron orbital launch vehicle will carry two earth-imaging Dove satellites for Planet and two Lemur-2 satellites from Spire for weather mapping and ship traffic tracking.

The flight is the second of three in Rocket Lab’s Electron test programme and follows the successful inaugural Electron test flight carried out on May 25, 2017.

The first test flight was aborted before reaching low earth orbit but subsequent analysis found tracking data supplied by a contractor was faulty. The flight was in fact on course.

Peter Beck, founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab, says carrying a test payload marks a significant milestone for the Electron programme, enabling Rocket Lab to gather crucial data and test systems for the deployment stage of a mission. 

The first test flight in May.

Mr Beck says it is highly unusual for a commercial payload to be carried on a rocket's first flight. He says it's a measure of his company's faith in its Electron rocket, and its customers' confidence in its technology.

“While we’re still very much operating in a test phase and can likely expect a few scrubs during the second test flight attempt, we’re incredibly excited about carrying Planet and Spire payloads on Electron. The data these companies gather has an increasingly significant role to play in how we understand our planet and better manage it,” he says.

Planet’s network of 190 satellites collects more imagery daily than any other commercial provider, the company says. It uses machine learning-driven analytics to deliver intelligence for businesses, government and NGO clients.

Mr Beck says Planet's core imaging business includes satellite photos for Google Maps and images that assist deforestation projects.

"The ability to iterate quickly and execute on an incredibly high level is core to the success of both Rocket Lab and Spire. 'Still Testing' is a culmination of that work into a single event,” said Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire, “and we're proud to be on board for this inaugural deployment attempt."

Spire, the world's first commercial weather satellite constellation, adds two satellites to an existing constellation of Lemur-2 satellites that covers every location on earth over 100 times per day.  The multi-sensor satellites gather global atmospheric measurements for advanced weather warnings and predictions and track global ship traffic for multiple commercial and government applications.

The Electron vehicle for the ‘Still Testing’ flight is expected to be trucked to Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula in October, with a launch window to open in the weeks following once vehicle checks are complete.

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34 Comments & Questions

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Incredible progress

Well done to the Rocket Lab team

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I agree with you The Scribe. And fair play to Callaghan Innovation as well.

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More on Rocket Lab's history and funding story (which also includes Lockheed Martin, Khosla Ventures NASA and Stephen Tindall) here.

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What did Callaghan actually do other than provide Rocket Lab with the funds that they were entitlted to - automatic 20% funding. Just as they have funded the likes of Geo Op etc.

anyone can dish out cash, the question is what other value has Callaghan been to this venture, that is what they should be judged on.

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For goodness sake, nobody tell Kim Jong-un. He might interpret as a provocation...

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These guys make me proud to be a New Zealander. Go you good thing.

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Let's just cool our rockets a little until they actually put a satellite in orbit shall we?

These things have a long history of blowing up, spectacularly. They are the quintessential crashed-and-burned risk proposition.

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Agree and disagree.

A successful launch is a major milestone, but the fact they have got this far already is a pretty signifcant achievement. So even if they do fail (and I would be betting they don't) its been impressive.

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An exciting firm. Surprised they're carrying satellites on a second test flight, so fingers crossed.

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The satellites they are carrying are not the "traditional" satellites which cost $billions. My guess is these will be relatively cheap and "disposable".

If they are paying Rocket Lab $1 then it is a commercial flight, so maybe paying $1 and going now is cheaper than paying $5m and going on the next ride or the one after that.

In addition if it is successful then they have a satellite deployed for little money.

But all really positive for Rocket Lab, if it is successful then they and space are open for business.

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Elon Musk carried a satellite for a commercial customer on one of SpaceX's early test flights. It was destroyed when the Falcon rocket blew up. Hope it goes to plan but good on them for backing themselves.

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I can't find any reference describing that as a test flight (though anyone feel free to stand me corrected. NBR's coverage: Disaster for SpaceX as rocket carrying Facebook satellite explodes).

In any case, I think the Falcon 9/Facebook satellite explosion illustrates the broader point that such mishaps don't paralyse commercial operators like Space X and Rocket Lab. 

Their relatively low costs and nimble structures mean they can bouce-back and move on quickly.

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This could have been a falcon 1, which flew many years ago and exploded shortly after lift off due to a corroded nut. The satellite was blown off the rocket and landed back on top of a spacex building.

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It's quite heroic to add the commercial aspect so early: emulates the early Apollo missions of the 1960s when testing the unproven (and biggest ever rocket) Saturn V. They had a timeline for a manned moon landing by end of the decade and took a risk of using an "all in one" attitude of combining the whole (untested) rocket early on. A huge risk but it worked.

Best of luck to them.

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It is disappointing to see the company is now branded as "Rocket Lab, a US aerospace company with operations in New Zealand".

What this means is that once the testing phase is over and the technology is established, everything will be transferred to the US and its New Zealand operations will be closed.

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Can't see that happening. Sure the $ have largely been raised in the US and there is a lot of the operation there. But the key ingredient in their success is New Zealand's unique position as a clear launching pad to get into space. Hence NZ operations are integral. I also get the feeling that Peter is a passionate kiwi

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And cheap, high-quality engineers.

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Agree

Maybe if NZ Inc invested more into NZ companies the entrepreneurs would not have to go offshore - you cant blame Peter Beck as he had no choice

Why is NZ Super investing in USA start ups and not start ups like Rocket Lab
Time for a Development Bank in NZ maybe - funded by the Govt and private sector?

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What is NZVIF if not a development bank?

What value would NZ Super bring to Rocket Lab? Rocket Lab has created an opportunity that can and has attracted smart money. Something that is sadly missing in NZ.

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Maybe NZ Inc was burnt by the likes of Martin Aircraft Company, now on its last legs after having wasted around A$70m over 3 decades of backyard tinkering. Still no positive outcome, a shoddy engine and now living on a NZ$10m loan, provided by a Hong Kong Bank, to be repaid in 2018, without any idea how to generate some meaningful income.

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Win some... lose some.... Investors have a choice. Lesson - Do your homework first. Nothing wrong at all with tinkering in the backyard but, anyone with a functioning neurone should have been well telegraphed that this technology in a rapidly changing world, was yesterday's technology. Notwithstanding, I hope that there is some IP in this project that can be commercialised in some way but, I'd doubt that any such potential exists above terra firma

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Well Paul, what can I say, just surviving without a single 'functioning neurone'. Lessons learned under the most difficult of circumstances and thanks for rubbing more than a pinch of salt into my wound.

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One major reason why successful NZ Firms head overseas is that in general, NZers don't invest in companies - they tend to invest in real estate. And also, why are most NZ banks now owned by Australian interests? Again, because NZers don't invest in companies, while Aussies do.

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Do you mean a "soft' bank? A taxpayers funded bank that will lend to 'entrepreneurs" whose ideas are too dopey for the main stream banks to lend on?
Excellent idea I must say!
Now I have this idea about developing a time machine. Be a great seller, all I need are the funds to research it.

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Talk to Callaghan Innovation they would love to fund you.

Unfortunately under new management NZVIF look like they might not be the easy touch they were.........so at least some improvements this year.

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Peter Beck has confirmed in earlier NBR interviews that Rocket Lab will build more launch centres, and that some of those could be in the US or otherwise outside NZ.

However, he's also committed to keeping R&D in NZ long term (with a current Callaghan grant, it's contractually obliged to in any case). That means more than 200 high-value jobs, which is better than poke in the eye.

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Nonsense. Most of the IP in this project lies between the ears of those involved at the NZ end. This includes NZ suppliers to RL whom have invested time and money in developing various technologies and components, all of whom have made significant contributions to the RL project in their own right. RL will not be reinventing the wheel anytime soon

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"Most of the IP in this project lies between the ears of those involved at the NZ end"

I hope it's more than just between their ears otherwise they are in deep trouble. You clearly don't know much about or have witnessed the American's ability to identify and nurture talent and throw copious amounts of money at it when they want it.

"You want the whole team relocated to America? Can do!"

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Of course any business can be relocated but shifting Rocket Lab will probably be more complex than most. So cannot see it happening for some time. Maybe more of the business ends up in the US but can't see NZ getting smaller.

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I don't think this has been widely released but it appears next on the list is some sort of moon shot next year. Rocket Labs listed as launcher for a company which is going for a Google X-prize of $5 million to safely land a probe on the moon and then move it 500 metres from the landing site.

I may have read it wrong (and can't recall the company) but the prize expires in March 2018 so it appears that if the upcoming test flights are successful then we've got some exciting things in store for next year.

If NBR is interviewing Peter Beck at any stage can they please ask him about this? Something fascinating about a moon rocket being launched from NZ.

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there appears to be developing the usual tall poppy things from loud mouths that never even learnt to ride a bike.
Leave the Company and its smarts alone and just maybe NZ will develop something much bigger than otherwise would be the case.
Be proud of a very successful small venture and stop tempting it to move off shore and scrub around a bunch loudmouths.

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I find your comment a little surprising, I think Rocket Lab gets pretty good coverage and most of the comments in the NBR are positive. Don't actually see too much of the tall poopy syndrome taking place around this company and its founder.

Even if people were trying to "knock" Peter and his team I suspect it would be water off a ducks back - they know what they want to do and to date have shown they can do it.

I would as mentioned above not bet against them being successful.

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First met Peter 10 years ago at a event when he was just starting. He is a smart guy with a genuine Kiwi attitude backed by smart people with serious money.

Peter and his team will succeed and show yet again how Kiwis apply a quiet determined methodical approach to problem solving and exceeding expectations.

No bullshit just results.

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