- Rocket Lab, a private spaceflight firm in New Zealand, failed to deliver seven satellites to orbit following a launch on Saturday.
- The company’s founder and CEO, Peter Beck, publicly apologised on Twitter to his customers for the loss of the space mission.
- Following his mea culpas, Beck and Rocket Lab saw a rush of support from SpaceX’s Elon Musk and other spaceflight-industry figureheads.
- “Sorry to hear about this. Hope you get back to orbit soon. Rockets are hard,” Musk tweeted in response to a video of Beck.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If Apple or Google ever launched a gadget product that failed, the last thing you might expect to see is either tech company publicly consoling the other.
When it comes to the orbital rocket industry, though, the atmosphere is far more collegial.
Over the weekend, the small-launch firm Rocket Lab experienced a ruinous setback: the total loss of an operational space mission worth months of time and millions of dollars. But instead of staying silent about the failure or gloating, leaders of space companies competing for business with the roughly $US1.4 billion startup stepped up to offer their public support.
Rocket Lab’s failed mission, called Pics Or It Didn’t Happen – in line with the company’s other cheekily named flights – was its 13th attempt to reach orbit with Electron, a six-story launch vehicle. On board were seven satellites for three customers.
A few minutes after a successful liftoff from one of the company’s launch pads in New Zealand, however, the Electron’s second- or upper-stage rocket failed. Rocket Lab lost the batch of satellites about 121 miles, or 195 kilometers, above Earth, according to a live broadcast on YouTube – well before the spacecraft reached its target altitude of 310 miles and the requisite speed to slip into orbit.
After the failure, Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, publicly apologised in two separate Twitter posts.
“We lost the flight late into the mission. I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon,” Beck tweeted on Saturday.
The CEO then recorded a 92-second video, which Rocket Lab shared via its Twitter account the same day.
“It’s fair to say that today was a pretty tough day,” Beck said in the clip, addressing the company’s customers. “Believe me, we feel and we share your disappointment. However, we will leave no stone unturned to figure out exactly what happened today so that we can learn from it and get back to the pad safely.” He added that “many Electron launch vehicles” were in production and that the company was “ready for a rapid return to flight.”
‘Hope you get back to orbit soon. Rockets are hard’
In response to the tweets, Rocket Lab saw a surge of supportive comments, including some from its competitors.
“Sorry to hear about this. Hope you get back to orbit soon. Rockets are hard,” Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, tweeted in response to Beck’s video.
Tory Bruno, the CEO of United Launch Alliance, tweeted a curt but supportive message to his colleague: “Hang in there, Peter.”
Dan Hart, the CEO of Virgin Orbit – which recently failed to launch a test mission to space – spoke publicly on behalf of the company.
“Peter, Wishing you and the Rocketlab team all the best as you swiftly find and fix the issue and continue your terrific record of success. Dan, and all of us here at Virgin Orbit,” Hart said.
Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, weighed in with his support, too.
“So sorry to hear this @Peter_J_Beck keep up the cadence and the great work,” Stallmer tweeted.
The startup even received a supportive message from Planet Labs: a company whose five Earth-imaging satellites Rocket Lab accidentally lost.
“While it’s never the outcome that we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one Planet is always prepared for,” Planet Labs told Reuters, adding that it looked “forward to flying on the Electron again” in the future.
Before Saturday’s failure – Rocket Lab’s first loss of 12 missions thus far with a customer payload on board (its first mission, a test launch in 2017, did not reach orbit) – the company planned to launch its next Electron vehicle from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in mid- to late August.
Though engineers are investigating the cause of the recent failure, a company representative told Business Insider in an email Monday that the loss “will likely have a minimal impact on schedule for our upcoming missions” but noted it was “too early to give new timings” for those launches.
The representative also said Rocket Lab’s investigation was “progressing well and we’re pushing hard to be back on the pad soon.”
Have a story or inside information to share about the spaceflight industry? Send Dave Mosher an email at [email protected] or a Twitter direct message at @davemosher. More secure communication options are listed here.
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