The inaugural test flight of Rocket Lab’s commercial small satellite booster in May fell short of orbit because a software programming error on a piece of ground equipment led a safety officer to send a premature termination command, and the company is planning to deliver the next Electron vehicle to its New Zealand launch pad in October.
Engineers identified no significant problems with the Electron rocket’s performance on the May 25 test launch, raising confidence in the chances the second flight could attain the velocity needed to reach an orbit around Earth, said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab.
“We’re very happy with the performance of the vehicle,” Beck said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “The flight was a heavily instrumented flight. It had something like 25,000 channels of data and instruments on-board, and the data that we were able to obtain was exceptionally good, and it enabled us to validate all the engineering decisions and performances of the vehicle, the thermal environment, the structural environment.”
The collection of vibration, structural and environmental measurements was the primary goal of the May test flight, which lifted off from Rocket Lab’s privately-operated launch pad on Mahia Peninsula, a piece of land on the east cost of New Zealand’s North Island.
“We captured all the data we needed,” Beck said.
The Electron rocket soared to an altitude of 139 miles (224 kilometers) before a piece of ground tracking equipment faltered, erroneously leading a range safety officer to terminate the launch to ensure the launcher did not stray from its pre-approved flight path.
Beck said the tracking system was provided by an independent contractor, but he declined to identify the owner of the equipment.
The ground hardware was incorrectly programmed, according to Rocket Lab, causing position data it received from the…