Rocket Lab has made a remarkable recovery after losing a payload during a mission failure on July 4 – just eight weeks later, the company has set a launch window for its next dedicated commercial mission that spans 12 days beginning August 27 at 3:05 PM local New Zealand time.
At the end of July, Rocket Lab revealed that it had received crucial FAA clearance to resume its launch activities, following an internal investigation that lasted a month and identified the root cause – a component that had performed fine previously, but that somehow hadn’t undergone rigorous and thorough testing. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck noted that they’d be able to mitigate the problem with a relatively simple change to their production process, and even remedy the component on existing, already-produced Electron launch vehicles.
Rocket Lab’s quick turnaround on this resolution and return to active launch status also has to do with the nature of the problem – the error actually resulted in an early, but safe shutdown of the Electron’s engines, which meant that it didn’t reach its target orbit. The rocket didn’t explode, however, or cause any kind of safety risk. That also meant Rocket Lab was able to easily pull data about the issue that caused the failure after the engines cut off.
Other companies have endured much longer shutdown times following launch vehicle failures: SpaceX took four months to return to active flights after its 2016 pre-flight loss of a Falcon 9 with a Facebook internet satellite on board. That was a very different kind of failure, however, for all the reasons mentioned above.
Still, it’s a sign of the resilience and flexibility of Rocket Lab’s model that it’s already set to begin serving paying customers again the month following its own ordeal. This launch won’t further its efforts to develop a partly reusable launch system with a booster recovery process, however.