WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab returned its Electron rocket to flight July 29 with the successful launch of an experimental satellite for the U.S. Space Force.
The Electron lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand at 2 a.m. Eastern. The rocket’s two stages performed normally and, after a coast phase, the vehicle’s kick stage deployed the Monolith satellite 52 minutes after liftoff into a 600-kilometer orbit at an inclination of 37 degrees.
The launch was the first for Electron since a May 15 mission that failed to reach orbit when the rocket’s second stage engine shut down moments after ignition. The company traced the failure to “a previously undetectable failure mode” in the ignition system not seen in earlier launches or in ground testing. That problem corrupted signals in the computer on the stage, which in turn caused the thrust vector control system to “deviate outside nominal parameters” and forced the engine to shut down.
That failure was the second in less than a year for the Electron and the third in 20 launches. In response to the May launch failure, the company created what it called “redundancies” in the ignition system, such as changes to the ...