Rocket Lab clear to launch again after first mission failure attributed to electrical fault – ProWellTech
Rocket Lab received FAA launch authorization following the failure of its Electron rocket on July 4 and the loss of half a dozen satellites on board. CEO Peter Beck said it was “This was a very, very subtle and complicated issue,” said CEO Peter Beck. “However, the problem is well understood by the team. We can’t wait to get back on the mat.”
The bankruptcy, Beck explained in a press call, was not nearly as catastrophic as many of these incidents. While the payloads were lost in the vehicle’s uncontrolled descent, the rocket did not explode or suddenly broke as it sometimes does, but appears to have closed quietly during the second stage burn due to “a single electrical connection abnormal “.
“We were just cruising in orbit, traveling at about 4 km / s,” explained Beck, when a single part experienced greater than normal resistance, leading to a build-up of heat, which caused the passage of security systems and arrest. “The shutdown was completely automated: of course we would have done everything we could to try and drive it into orbit and the vehicle made a huge amount of corrections to try and do it. But when you pull the plug out, you pull the plug out.”
This meant that although the launch – terribly the company’s 13th – failed, the rocket could still send invaluable information about what had gone wrong, which no doubt contributed to the investigators’ rapid turnaround.
“The error was very graceful, so we were able to collect huge amounts of data,” said Beck, “literally 15 minutes after seeing the anomaly that the team had started to investigate, and they didn’t stop. “
Rocket Lab’s account of what happened is as follows:
On July 4, 2020, Electron’s launch vehicle successfully took off from Launch Complex 1 and proceeded to a nominal first stage engine fire, Phase 1-2 separation, Phase 2 ignition and fairing discharge as expected. After a few minutes from the second stage burn, the motor performed a safe stop with consequent failure to reach orbit. Due to the controlled way in which the engine stopped, Rocket Lab continued to receive telemetry data from the vehicle, providing engineers with comprehensive data to conduct a thorough investigation into the problem. After examining more than 25,000 data channels and conducting extensive tests, Rocket Lab’s AIB was able to safely narrow the problem down to a single abnormal electrical connection. This connection was protected intermittently during the flight, creating an increasing resistance that caused the heating and thermal expansion of the electrical component. This caused liquefaction of the surrounding impregnation compounds, leading to the disconnection of the electrical system and the consequent stopping of the engine. The problem eluded pre-flight detection as the electrical connection remained secure during standard environmental acceptance tests, including vibration, thermal vacuum and thermal cycle tests.
Incidentally, letting the vehicle try to “get away” with a blown fuse is not advisable for safety and other reasons. Accuracy is paramount and if the payloads are not delivered correctly, there is a risk of collision with another orbital object. And there is little credit in completing a mission with the teeth: as a great launch supplier, Rocket Lab must show caution and professionalism, and rubbing a mission when it is no longer nominal is the only real way to do it .
Beck explained that partial bankruptcy has eluded rigorous testing, but that future tests will be even more rigorous.
“This has been incredibly unusual. We built over 720 of these components and this is the only one that has shown abnormal behavior, “he said.” We can actually mitigate it very easily through a slight modification of the production processes, but more importantly, we can control it in existing vehicles. in the warehouse through deeper testing procedures “.
He added that during the month-long investigation process, the team made a number of changes that should further improve the vehicle without requiring major design or manufacturing changes.
“Electron has gained its streak and we have brought 53 customers into orbit relentlessly,” said Beck, but admitted “This is the launching sector and these things happen. The reality is that anyone who flies on Electron will now fly a vehicle. even more reliable than before. “
After submitting their findings to the FAA, Rocket Lab is now ready for its next mission in August if no further delays arise. Although the failure of the launch meant a financial setback, Beck (although he did not comment on questions about insurance or customer reimbursement) seemed calm enough about it.
“If you’re going to own a missile company and launch vehicles, you have to be prepared for this kind of thing,” he said, noting that the company had “a large chunk of capital in the bank for … bad things. It’s nothing for which we haven’t planned. “
The plan to open the U.S.-based Launch Complex 2 and reach a monthly launch cadence this year is still active, he said.