Rocket Lab’s 13th Electron launch has ended in disaster. The company reported that its “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” mission failed during the second stage burn about four minutes into the flight, resulting in the loss of both the rocket as well as the seven satellites aboard. It’s not clear what went wrong, although the video feed (below) froze and showed a loss of altitude before Rocket Lab cut off live data. The team said it was working with the FAA to investigate the failure.
Company founder Peter Beck has apologized on Twitter for the incident, noting that he was “deeply sorry” to the customers who lost their payloads. He stressed that Rocket Lab would learn from what happened and that this was a reminder spaceflight was “unforgiving.” The firm isn’t expected to return to flight until after it determined what went wrong and what it can fix.
The rocket had been carrying payloads for three customers, most notably Canon. It was supposed to be demonstrating an Earth imaging camera system ahead of plans for mass production. Planet was expanding its giant constellation of Earth observation satellites, while In-Space was launching its first cubesat mission as part of an initiative to help researchers and startups get payloads into orbit.
The loss comes after 11 consecutive successful Electron launches, including some with a relatively rapid turnaround. This isn’t the end, then, but it suggests that Rocket Lab may have work to do before it’s a completely reliable option for getting machines into space.