A Rocket Lab Electron rocket failed to reach orbit during a July 4 launch after a problem during the rocket’s second-stage burn. The Electron rocket lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 1 at Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 5:19 p.m. Eastern. The launch was originally scheduled for July 3 but pushed back two days because of poor weather in the forecast, only for the company to move up the launch to July 4 based on a reassessment of the weather.
The initial phases of the launch appeared to go as planned, although the vehicle’s passage through “max-q,” or maximum dynamic pressure, appeared to be rougher than what was seen in previous launches. Onboard video taken shortly before first-stage separation showed material appearing to peel from the rocket, although it was not clear if it simply a decal applied to the rocket or something more substantial. The onboard video from the rocket froze about five minutes and 45 seconds after lift-off, or three minutes into the seconds stage burn. At six and a half minutes after lift-off, a launch controller on the company’s webcast of the launch said, “Initiating mishap response plan.” Telemetry from the rocket, displayed on the webcast, showed the rocket’s altitude falling from about 194 kilometres to less than 165 kilometres for about 90 seconds before that information was removed from the screen. The company ended the webcast 11 minutes after lift-off, two minutes after the rocket’s second stage should have shut down and the kick stage, carrying its payload of seven satellites, deployed.