Update at 12:05 a.m. EDT: Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket has successfully deployed the Tsukuyomi-1 satellite.
Rocket Lab has launched the first flight of its Electron rocket since its failure on September 19. The 42nd Small Satellite Launcher mission lifted off on December 15 from New Zealand at approximately 1705 NZ time (0405 UTC or 11:05 p.m. EDT). ).
An Electron rocket launched “The Moon God Awakens” mission from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, Pad B, on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. This was a mission assigned to the Japan-based Earth imaging company iQPS (Q-shu Pioneers of Space Institute, Inc.). The Tsukuyomi-1 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite joins another iQPS satellite in orbit to capture high-resolution views of Earth as close as one square meter wide.
Ultimately, it will be part of a constellation of 36 satellites designed to monitor fixed points on Earth every 10 minutes. iQPS said it aims to deploy its full range by 2025 or later.
“We are extremely grateful to the Rocket Lab team for their efforts in arranging a launch opportunity that perfectly aligns with our desired orbit,” Shunsuke Onishi, CEO of iQPS, said in a statement. “Additionally, we take great pride in our team, who works tirelessly day in and day out to accommodate this tight schedule.”
This mission marks the 10th flight of an Electron rocket in 2023, putting it one mission ahead of Rocket Lab’s previous record of nine launches set in 2022.
“We see the market for the Electron product being very strong in the statement,” Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said during an investor earnings call in November. “Frequent launch opportunities, schedule flexibility and control of orbital deployment are what our customers are looking for and this is what Electron provides and will continue to provide in the new year.”
Of the 22 launches Rocket Lab has booked for 2024, nine will be recovery missions. The company said it will not attempt to recover the Electron first-stage booster on this mission.
Back to the trip
This Electron mission is a big moment for Rocket Lab after the company was forced to pause launches for most of the fourth quarter of 2023. It had two launches in the third quarter before its failed mission in September.
During the Electron launch on September 19, there was an engine ignition problem in the second stage, about two and a half minutes into the flight. In its third-quarter earnings presentation to investors, the company stated that the anomaly was caused by an electrical arc within the power supply system, which shorted out the battery packs that provide power to the second stage.
“The most likely root cause of the arc was a unique and unusual interplay of conditions including: the phenomenon of Paschen’s Law, where the ability of electric arcs to form is greatly enhanced in a partial vacuum; Superimposed alternating current (AC) over a high voltage direct current (DC) source; Small concentration of helium and nitrogen. And an imperceptible defect in the insulation of the high-voltage loom.
This conclusion came after a seven-week investigation conducted in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration.
“After more than 40 launches, Electron has a mature, proven design with a well-established manufacturing process behind it, so we knew the bug would be something very complex and rare that had never been demonstrated in testing or flight before.” Beck said in a statement issued in October. “Our investigation team with FAA oversight worked around the clock from the moment this anomaly occurred to uncover all potential root causes, replicate them in testing, and determine a course of corrective actions to avoid similar failure modes in the future.”
Part of the solution to help ensure “this doesn’t happen again” came from increasing the precision of the second stage and sealing the battery frame that contains the high-voltage connections and equipment as well as pressurizing it to approximately 0.5 psi, Beck said.
“The best way to solve a problem, in my opinion, is always to eliminate the problem, and that’s what we did,” Beck said. “Getting to the bottom of the issue and getting back on the platform for our customers has been the team’s number one priority.”
“It has been incredible to witness the perseverance and dedication over the past few weeks, not only in investigating the anomalies, but in the work they have completed in parallel to make sure we are ready to hit the ground running as soon as we return to the pad.”
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