Rocket Lab will be ‘working hard’ to find answers on failed mission

Rocket Lab is the clear leader in its field despite yesterday’s failed launch and will be working to find out what happened, a physics professor says.

It is still not known why the rocket carrying seven satellites was lost four minutes after take off from Mahia Peninsula. It was launching satellites from Japan, the US and the UK a day earlier than planned because of bad weather due later this week.

Professor Richard Easther, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Auckland, said there was very little margin for error in rocket launches.

“It appears that everything was working well until about half way through the second stage burn. It doesn’t appear that the rocket completely exploded.

“All we know is that the engine stopped and that the rocket didn’t make it into orbit.

“A rocket by definition is operating very close to the performance envelope. Every possible kilogram that can be saved is being saved.

“What that means is there’s very little margin for error. It’s not like a plane, that can lose an engine and keep flying – it either works or it doesn’t.”

The New Zealand-founded company is working closely with the US Federal Aviation Administration to find out why the launched failed.

“They will be very keen to get back into space as quickly as possible – but they’ll also be keen to make sure that they can fully explain what happened to their customers and to put it right,” Easther said.

“Because people do expect the occasional failure, the key thing is that RocketLab will have prepared for this eventuality and they’ll be working very hard to maintain their credibility.”

Rocket Lab is the clear leader in its field, but dozens of other firms around the world are trying to enter the niche market of carrying out small, relatively frequent launches.

Though its first launch didn’t make it all the way to orbit, the subsequent ones did. “I think they’re somewhat ahead of the numbers,” he said

The company’s founder Peter Beck is apologising to the satellite owners.

Easther said companies launching satellites into space see it as something experimental or take out insurance, he said.