Rocket Lab prepares to resume launches after anomaly incident

Rocket Lab, the private aerospace company based in New Zealand, is set to make its first launch since a failure back in September. The mission, named “The Moon God Awakens,” is scheduled to take place on December 15th between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm NZDT. If the launch is unsuccessful on the first attempt, Rocket Lab has a window of opportunity in December with two-hour launch windows each day.

The payload for this mission is an Earth-observing satellite called Tsukuyomi-I. This satellite has been developed by the Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space, Inc. (iQPS), a Japan-based company. It’s designed to collect high-resolution images of Earth and will join another iQPS satellite that is already in orbit. The ultimate goal is to create a network of 36 satellites that will be capable of monitoring specific fixed points on the planet every ten minutes.

The previous failure, during the mission named “We Will Never Desert You,” was caused by an electrical arc that resulted in a loss of voltage. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explained that the electron rocket uses a unique upper-stage system called the Rutherford Vacuum engine, which relies on electric turbopumps to get propellant into the engine. This makes it the only orbital-class rocket in the world to use such a system.

Beck further described how the failure occurred due to the positioning of the rocket on the Paschen curve. This curve determines at what voltage and atmospheric pressure an electrical arc is most likely to occur. Unfortunately, at stage separation, the rocket was positioned at the worst part of the Paschen curve, with high battery voltage and a very partial vacuum. This created the ideal conditions for an electrical arc to form.

To address this issue, Rocket Lab made corrections to the Electron rocket. They pressurized the area near the batteries in the upper stage to eliminate the possibility of arcs jumping. By filling in all the panels around the battery frame and using a flexible boot up to the nozzle, they effectively removed the Paschen law from the equation. This modification ensures that arcs cannot form even in a partial vacuum.

Despite these changes, Rocket Lab has stated that the timeline for the upcoming launch will be similar to previous missions. The engines will ignite, followed by liftoff, and the rocket will reach its maximum aerodynamic stress point. The first and second stages will separate, and the Rutherford Vacuum engine will ignite. The fairings will separate, and the second stage will continue until cutoff, followed by the separation of the kick stage.

The kick stage, powered by a 3D-printed Curie engine, will ignite and deploy the satellite into orbit.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck commended his team for their hard work and efforts to address the issue and prepare for this upcoming launch. While it’s unclear why the launch got pushed from late November to mid-December, Rocket Lab is confident in their corrective measures and is ready for the opening of the launch window.

This mission marks an important step for Rocket Lab as they demonstrate their ability to learn from failures and make necessary improvements. As they continue their endeavors in the aerospace industry, they are continuously pushing the boundaries of rocket technology and paving the way for future space exploration.