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.

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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