Rocket Lab’s Electron launch history

13th May 2022
Rocket Lab’s Electron launch history

Despite the increase in the number of rocket launches in recent years, there are still very few companies providing commercial services for delivering payloads to orbits, but Rocket Lab’s launcher’s place in this list is already high. Today we will talk about one of the private market leaders – Rocket Lab – and discuss its Electron rocket launch statistics as well as Rocket Lab launch dates so far.

12 years long way to Orbit

The aerospace company Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 by New Zealand engineer Peter Beck, who to this day is its permanent CEO and technical director. Initially, the company was developing the Atea sounding rocket. The carrier had a height of 6m, a weight of 60kg, and could only lift a 2kg payload. The first Rocket Lab launch took place in 2009 from one of Mercury’s private islands off the coast of New Zealand. The rocket passed along a suborbital trajectory, and the landed parts were never retrieved or searched for. The launch was considered a success, and Atea has never been launched again, as its task was considered complete. Still, Rocket Lab caught the eye of the US government.

In December 2010, the company received a contract under the NASA program for the operational deployment of tactical space systems to develop a means of delivering nanosatellites into orbit. This opened partial access to NASA resources, namely personnel, premises, and equipment, allowing the New Zealand startup to significantly increase its capacity and potential.

In 2013, Peter Beck re-registers the company in the US and opens headquarters in Huntington Beach, California. By that time, Rocket Lab is already receiving stable funding from American sources and commissions from the US government. And five years later, in 2018, it entered the commercial launch market with the new Electron rocket.

Small but smart

Rocket Lab’s main launcher, the Electron rocket, is an ultra-light launch vehicle with a height of 17m and a diameter of 1.2m, driven by ten proprietary Reserford engines with a power of 2.2kN each (9 in the first stage, 1 in the 2 stages). These characteristics ensure payload deliveries of up to 300kg to LEO and up to 200kg to SSO. The 3-stage modification is used to create circular satellite orbits. The Photon spacecraft for interplanetary missions can also be used as the third stage. The third stage is powered by innovative 3D printed and biofuel-powered Curie and HyperCurie engines.

The first Electron rocket launch took place on 25th May 2017 at 04:20 UTC from the Rocket Lab launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. All systems worked normally. However, after the rocket reached a height of 224km, a telemetry failure occurred, and the ground command center was forced to destroy the carrier.

Next Rocket Lab’s launch, dubbed “Still testing,” (by the way, the company gives funny names to all its missions), took place on 21st January 2018, and was a complete success. Electron launched again from Mahia LC 1A launch site and delivered three CubeSats to orbit for Planet Labs and Spire Global.

Rocket Lab’s launch failures

So far, the successful series of Electron launches were interrupted only twice. During the 13th mission on 4th July 2020, due to a power failure, when the engine of the 2nd stage did not turn on, and the rocket was lost along with the payload.

The second Rocket Lab launch failure took place on 15th May 2021. The rocket veered off course and failed to complete its mission. Once again, the failure was caused by the engine of the second stage. The investigation showed that a malfunction in the engine controller led to a distortion of the signal for the thrust vector control system and, as a result, to the deviation from course.

Rocket Lab: keep moving forward

According to Peter Beck, his company is committed to providing an unprecedentedly low-cost and flexible payload launch service. So far, Rocket Lab has succeeded in this endeavour. In the commercial microlaunchers market, Rocket Lab’s launch cost is the lowest, fluctuating between 5-7 million dollars per launch.

Even though originally Electron was not intended as a reusable rocket, in August 2019, the company announced plans to recover the Electron first stage and re-launch it. On 20th October 2020, the rocket made a soft landing by parachute on a platform in the ocean.

The company wants to carry out at least 25 launches per year, so it is actively working to create new launch sites. So, in December 2019, the second Rocket Lab launchpad LC-2 in Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, MARS, Wallops, USA was officially opened. And the most recent Rocket Lab Electron launch on 28th Feb 2022 took place from Мahia, LC-1B, licensed to launch every 72 hours for 30 years.

Besides, the company has no intention of focusing solely on Electron launches. In 2021, Peter Beck announced the development of the Neutron heavy-class launch vehicle, which should compete with the latest SpaceX Starship and Blue Origin New Glenn rockets. We have compared the main features of Neutron vs Falcon rockets, as well as Neutron vs New Glenn.

And while Neutron awaits its time, we suggest you check out the list of past Rocket Lab’s launch dates.

Rocket Lab’s launch schedule from 2018 till 2022

The very beginning: 2017 and 2018

Flight No.

Name

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Payload mass

Destination

Customer(s)

Launch outcome

Booster recovery

1

“It’s a Test”

25 May 2017, 04:20

Mahia, LC-1A

None

None

500 km, 85° LEO

Rocket Lab (flight test)

Failure

No attempt

The rocket successfully launched and performed first stage separation and fairing separation. After reaching an altitude of about 224 kilometres (139 mi) (planned 500 kilometres (310 mi) at 85° inclination), the telemetry feed to the range safety officer was lost and the rocket was destroyed by range safety officer. Post-flight analysis determined the issue to be a simple ground software failure rather than a problem with the rocket. The ground software issue was found to be a contractor’s failure to enable forward error correction on their hardware leading to data corruption. Rocket Lab made no changes to the Electron vehicle and instead implemented adjustment to procedures to prevent similar problems.

2

“Still Testing”

21 January 2018, 01:43

Mahia, LC-1A

  • Dove Pioneer
  • Lemur-2 × 2
  • Humanity Star

13 kg (29 lb)

LEO

  • Planet Labs
  • Spire Global

Success

No attempt

Carrying CubeSats for Planet Labs and Spire Global. The two Lemur-2 satellites were put into a circularized orbit by the new “Electron kick stage” which was not announced until after the launch. Between December 2017 and January 2018 the launch was delayed six times due to weather, orbital traffic, rocket, and range safety issues. Put Lemur-2 payloads into 500 km (310 mi) high orbit at 85.0° inclination while the Dove Pioneer satellite was put into a 289 km (180 mi) x 533 km (331 mi).

3

“It’s Business Time”

11 November 2018, 03:50

Mahia, LC-1A

  • Lemur-2 × 2
  • CICERO
  • IRVINE01
  • NABEO
  • Proxima × 2

Approx 45 kilograms (99 lb)

500 km, 85° LEO

  • Spire Global
  • GeoOptics
  • Irvine CubeSat STEM Program
  • High Performance Space Structure Systems
  • Fleet Space Technologies

Success

No attempt

The 11 November 2018 launch was successful; all cubesats planned to be deployed were deployed in orbit. The launch, originally planned for April 2018, had been delayed several times: to June/July after unusual behavior was identified in a motor controller during a wet dress rehearsal, by a few days after a ground tracking antenna issue in the Chatham Island tracking station and indefinitely after another motor controller issue. In October 2018, a nine-day launch window was announced starting 11 November 2018.

4

“This One’s For Pickering”

16 December 2018, 06:33

Mahia, LC-1A

  • ELaNa-19
    • ALBus
    • CeREs
    • CHOMPTT
    • CubeSail
    • DaVinci
    • ISX
    • NMTSat
    • RSat-P
    • Shields-1
    • STF-1
  • SHFT 2
  • TOMSat EagleScout
  • TOMSat R3

78 kg (172 lb)

500 km, 85° LEO

NASA

Success

No attempt

Multiple CubeSats for the NASA-sponsored ELaNa-19 mission. They were deployed from RailPOD dispensers. Was the first NASA mission for Rocket Lab.

The year 2019

Flight

No.

Name

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Payload Mass

Destination

Customer(s)

Launch outcome

Booster recovery

11

“Birds of a Feather”

31 January 2020, 02:56

Mahia, LC-1A

NROL-151

Classified

590 km x 610 km, 70.9° LEO

National Reconnaissance Office

Success

Controlled (atmosphere test)

First launch for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space. For the second time, the Electron booster survived atmospheric re-entry. Rocket Lab again said their reusability test were successful.

12

“Don’t Stop Me Now”

13 June 2020,

05:12:12

Mahia, LC-1A

  • Classified payloads x 3 (USA-301, 302, 303) (NRO)
  • ANDESITE
  • RAAF M2PF (Pathfinder)

Classified

LEO

NRO, Boston University / NASA and University of New South Wales Canberra Space and the Royal Australian Air Force.

Success

No attempt

Part of the ELaNa 32 mission, ANDESITE is a satellite designed to study Earth’s magnetic field. The M2 Pathfinder satellite will be a technology demonstration satellite to test communications. The flight will also carry three payloads for the NRO. Rocket Lab does not plan to do any recovery testing. Flight delayed due to COVID-19. A launch attempt on 11 June 2020 was canceled due to bad weather. ANDESITE consists of ANDESITE Mule, a 6U parent spacecraft, and ANDESITE Node 1 to Node 8, small magnetometer subsatellites to be ejected from it to study magnetospheric variation. Each Node is 0.20 x 0.10 x 0.025 m in size with a mass of 0.38 kg.

13

“Pics or it didn’t happen”

4 July 2020

21:19:36

Mahia, LC-1A

  • CE-SAT-IB
  • SuperDove x 5
  • Faraday 1

Approx. 75 kg (165 lb)

LEO

  • Canon Electronics
  • Planet Labs
  • In-Space Missions

Failure

No attempt

Flight No. 13’s name was “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”. The 5 SuperDoves were part of Planet’s Flock 4e. Flight failed during 2nd stage burn. The issue was found to be a single faulty electrical connection that was not caught during preflight testing. The wiring was intermittently secure leading to increasing resistance causing heating and thermal expansion. This caused softening of potting compounds around the connection leading to a disconnect. The disconnect lead to power being cut from the electric turbopumps needed for the Rutherford engine leading the engine to be shut down. No changes were made to the vehicle but changes were made to “work instructions and quality signoffs”.

14

“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical”

31 August 2020

03:05:47

Mahia, LC-1A

  • Sequoia
  • Photon (First Light)

100 kg

LEO

Capella Space

Success

No attempt

Return to flight of Electron after the 4 July 2020 launch failure. Launch of a synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite, for global imagery. Also launched the Photon satellite bus.

15

“In Focus”

28 October 2020

21:21:27

Mahia, LC-1A

  • SuperDove x 9
  • CE-SAT-IIB

 

LEO

  • Planet Labs
  • Spaceflight, Inc. for Canon Electronics

Success

No attempt

After satellite deployed kick stage changed orbital inclination.

16

“Return To Sender”

20 November 2020

02:20:01

Mahia, LC-1A

  • Dragracer A
  • Dragracer B
  • BRO-2
  • BRO-3
  • APSS-1 (Te Waka Āmiorangi o Aotearoa) (Auckland Program for Space Systems)
  • SpaceBEE x 24
  • Gnome Chompski (mass simulator)

200 kg

LEO

  • TriSept Corp.
  • UnseenLabs
  • Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute, The University of Auckland
  • Swarm Technologies
  • Gabe Newell

Success

Success (Ocean landing)

First Electron to attempt a soft ocean landing by parachute with the booster and recovery by vessel.

17

“The Owl’s Night Begins”

15 December 2020

10:09:27

Mahia, LC-1A

StriX-α

150 kg

500 km, 97.3° SSO

Synspective

Success

No attempt

Test satellite weighing 150 kg (330 lb) using synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) from a Japanese company. Part of a future constellation of 25 satellites to provide global coverage. Satellite was encompassed in an expanded fairing.

2020 was also eventful

Flight

No.

Name

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Payload Mass

Destination

Customer(s)

Launch outcome

Booster recovery

18

“Another One Leaves The Crust”

20 January 2021

07:26:00

Mahia, LC-1A

GMS-T

~50 kg

LEO

OHB

Success

No attempt

Dedicated mission for OHB, the launch occurred six months after the contract signing with Rocket Lab and OHB.

19

“They Go Up So Fast”

22 March 2021

22:30

Mahia, LC-1A

  • BlackSky Global 9
  • Centauri 3
  • Myriota 7
  • Veery Hatchling
  • RAAF-M2 A, B
  • Gunsmoke-J
  • Photon (Pathstone)

Unknown

LEO

  • BlackSky via Spaceflight Inc.
  • Fleet Space
  • Myriota
  • Care Weather Technologies
  • University of New South Wales Canberra Space
  • (USASMDC)
  • Rocket Lab

Success

No attempt

During this mission, Rocket Lab deployed their 100th satellite to orbit. As well as their second Photon satellite bus named Pathstone. Photon Pathstone will operate on orbit as a risk reduction demonstration to build spacecraft heritage ahead of Rocket Lab’s mission to the Moon for NASA later this year, as well as Rocket Lab’s private mission to Venus in 2023.

20

“Running Out Of Toes”

15 May 2021

11:11

Mahia, LC-1A

BlackSky-10, BlackSky-11

120 kg

LEO

BlackSky via Spaceflight Industries, Inc.

Failure

Success (Ocean landing)

Second launch to attempt booster recovery (via ocean landing), using an advanced heat shield based on lessons learned from the first recovered Electron booster. First of four 2021 launches to carry two BlackSky Global Gen 2 satellites. Second stage engine shut down early causing the mission to be lost, but Electron’s first stage safely completed a successful splashdown under parachute. The investigation revealed that the second stage igniter fault induced an interference with the engine controller that caused the data signal corruption for the thrust vector control (TVC) system, straying the vehicle off course.

21

“It’s A Little Chile Up Here”

29 July 2021

06:00

Mahia, LC-1A

Monolith

Unknown

LEO

U.S. Space Force

Success

No attempt

The launch was originally scheduled to fly from LC-2 in Wallops in 2020, but NASA didn’t certify the autonomous flight termination system (AFTS) in time. Because of these delays, the launch was moved to LC-1 as the return to flight after the anomaly Electron experienced during the “Running Out Of Toes” mission in May 2021.

22

“Love At First Insight”

18 November 2021

01:38:13

Mahia, LC-1A

BlackSky-14, BlackSky-15

120 kg

LEO

BlackSky via Spaceflight Inc.

Success

Success (Ocean landing)

Second of four launches to carry two BlackSky Global Gen 2 satellites in 2021. Mission was named “Love At First Insight”. The first stage booster performed a soft ocean splashdown under parachute. For the first time, a helicopter tracked and observed Electron’s descent in preparation for future missions which aim to use helicopters to intercept and capture returning launch vehicle boosters mid-air as they return to Earth under parachute. The launch vehicle also flew with an advanced parachute deployed from the first stage at a higher altitude then previous recovery attempts and an improved heat shield.

23

“A Data With Destiny”

9 December 2021 00:02

Mahia, LC-1A

BlackSky-12 Gen-2, BlackSky-13 Gen-2

120 kg

LEO

BlackSky via Spaceflight Inc.

Success

No attempt

Third of four launches to carry two BlackSky Global Gen 2 satellites in 2021. This mission set a new turnaround record between Electron launches at just 20 days.

Rocket Lab launches in 2021

Flight

No.

Name

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Payload Mass

Destination

Customer(s)

Launch outcome

Booster recovery

24

“The Owls Night Continues”

28 February 2022

20:35

Mahia, LC-1B

StriX-β

~150 kg

SSO

Synspective

Success

No attempt

Inaugural launch from Launch Complex 1 Pad B. First of three dedicated launches for Synspective’s StriX constellation.

25

“Without Mission A Beat”

2 April 2022

12:41

Mahia, LC-1A

BlackSky-14 Gen-2, BlackSky-15 Gen-2

~120 kg

LEO

BlackSky via Spaceflight Inc.

Success

No attempt

Last of four launches to carry two BlackSky Global Gen 2 satellites in 2021 and 2022.

26

“There And Back Again”

2 May 2022

22:49

Mahia, LC-1A

  • TRSI-2 & TRSI-3
  • MyRadar-1
  • Unicorn-2
  • Copia
  • AuroraSat-1
  • E-Space Demo (3 satellites)
  • SpaceBEE (24 satellites)
  • BRO-6

Unknown

SSO

  • Alba Orbital
  • Astrix Astronautics
  • Aurora Propulsion Technologies
  • E-Space
  • Swarm Technologies via Spaceflight Inc.
  • UnseenLabs

Success

Partial failure (aerial capture)

Deployed 34 satellites for six customers. First mid-air helicopter capture attempt of an Electron first stage following launch. Electron was initially captured by the helicopter, but the pilot detected different load characteristics than previously experienced in testing and offloaded the stage for a splashdown, where it was recovered by Rocket Lab’s contracted offshore vessel, Seaworker as in previous ocean landings.

2022

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Planned

destination

Customer

3 May –

15 May 2022

Mahia, LC-1B

CAPSTONE

TLI to NRHO

NASA

Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is a CubeSat mission that will serve as a precursor for the planned Gateway. Will use Photon to place CAPSTONE on a trajectory to the Moon. CAPSTONE will move into a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) after separation from Photon.

Mid-2022

Mahia, LC-1

ACS3

SSO

NASA

Rideshare mission including NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System (ACS3).

December 2022

MARS, LC-2

Hawk × 3

LEO

HawkEye 360

Rideshare mission launching the first 3 of the 15 satellites contracted with HawkEye 360. First launch from Launch Complex 2 at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

2022

Currently Unknown

OTB 3 (Argos-4)

LEO

USSF / NOAA

Mission will launch the Orbital Test Bed (OTB) 3 satellite developed by General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems. The OTB 3 satellite will carry the Argos-4 Advanced Data Collection System hosted payload.

2022

Mahia, LC-1A

RASR-3

LEO

NRO

NROL-162 mission. Back to back launches between Pad A and B.

2022

Mahia, LC-1B

RASR-4

LEO

NRO

NROL-199 mission. Back to back launches between Pad A and B.

2022

Mahia, LC-1

StriX

SSO

Synspective

Second of three dedicated launches for Synspective’s StriX constellation.

2022

Mahia, LC-1

McNair

SSO

Akash Systems Inc.

McNair will be launched into a 500 km high Sun-synchronous orbit with a 97.8° inclination. The McNair mission aims to test the “GaN-on-Diamond transmitter”.

2022

Mahia, LC-1

BlackSky Gen-2 × 2

LEO

BlackSky via Spaceflight Inc.

Additional launch commissioned following previous series of launches.

TBD

Mahia, LC-1

Circle 1

TBD

Circle Aerospace

 

TBD

Mahia, LC-1

Flock-x × 20–25

LEO

Planet Labs

A constellation of satellites for Earth observation. 20 to 25 microsatellites will be released during the launch.

What’s next? Rocket Lab launch schedule for 2022-2023

Date/time

(UTC)

Launch site

Payload

Planned

destination

Customer

May 2023

Mahia, LC-1

Venus Life Finder Mission 1

Heliocentric

Rocket Lab

Private Venus exploration mission, using an atmospheric-entry probe developed jointly with MIT. A Photon relay satellite will perform a flyby of Venus in order to relay the data from the atmospheric-entry probe.

Q2 2023

Mahia, LC-1

Kinéis × 5

LEO

Kinéis

First of five dedicated launches for Kinéis’ IoT satellite constellation.

Q4 2023

Mahia, LC-1

LOXSAT 1

SSO

Eta Space

Cryogenic fluid management technology demonstration for a future propellant depot.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

ADRAS-J

LEO

Astroscale

The Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) satellite will rendezvous with a spent Japanese upper stage launch vehicle body in low Earth orbit and demonstrate proximity operations in preparation for a future de-orbiting mission.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

Kinéis × 5

LEO

Kinéis

Second of five dedicated launches for Kinéis’ IoT satellite constellation.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

Kinéis × 5

LEO

Kinéis

Third of five dedicated launches for Kinéis’ IoT satellite constellation.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

Kinéis × 5

LEO

Kinéis

Fourth of five dedicated launches for Kinéis’ IoT satellite constellation.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

Kinéis × 5

LEO

Kinéis

Fifth of five dedicated launches for Kinéis’ IoT satellite constellation.

2023

Mahia, LC-1

StriX

SSO

Synspective

Third of three dedicated launches for Synspective’s StriX constellation.

2023-2024

Unknown

Hawk × 6

LEO

HawkEye 360

First of two dedicated launches for HawkEye 360.

2023-2024

Unknown

Hawk × 6

LEO

HawkEye 360

Second of two dedicated launches for HawkEye 360.

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