Aug 8, 2017 | By Tess

On May 25, 2017, New Zealand aerospace company Rocket Lab launched its first 3D printed, battery-powered rocket into space, an event which gained much media attention across the globe. Now, however, details of the mission have come to light that show that something went wrong with the launch, causing the rocket to fall back to Earth.

The rocket, developed by Rocket Lab with support from Silicon Valley, was launched from the the company’s Mahia Peninsula base on May 25. Within four minutes of the launch and at 224 kilometers in the air, the Rocket Lab team says there was a software error, which caused them to lose contact with the rocket for a brief moment.

These few seconds of lost contact meant there was a risk that the rocket would not end up where it was intended in space, so the Rocket Lab team was forced to terminate the 3D printed rocket’s flight. It is likely that the rocket burned up in the atmosphere upon its descent.

The rocket itself, called Electron, had been in development for several years and was given flight qualification in 2016 for its 3D printed Rutherford engine. Since then, Rocket Lab had been preparing for its rocket launch, which was meant to demonstrate the potential of sending small launch commercial vehicles into space.

In fact, the May 25 launch was reportedly the first ever attempt to send a rocket into orbit from a private launch pad.

The glitch was reportedly caused by a “third-party contractor” that had “failed to tick the right box” in a telemetry software program that is used to translate radio signals into data. The software that glitched is used primarily by the safety engineers who track the rocket’s launch and flight path.

Understandably, once they lost contact with the rocket, even if it was just for a brief moment, the team decided it was necessary to terminate the flight. After the unfortunate event occurred, Rocket Lab began extensive analyses of the “telemetry data loss” and flight data collected from over 25,000 channels.

Still, despite the failed maiden launch, the Rocket Lab team remains confident in its rocket technology, and saw the glitch as only a small setback. Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s chief executive officer, added that data compiled from the Electron rocket’s maiden flight was “phenomenal.”

"It would have been great to have had a flawless flight—that’s what everybody dreamed of—but to put that into context, governments spend billions of dollars and don't get as far as we did on our first flight,” said Beck.

Data from the rest of the flight was so positive that Beck and his company believe they are prepared to launch two more test rockets before the end of the year and will be building six more commercial launch rockets.

"What it's actually meant is we've accelerated our programme into commercial flight," Beck added. "This is why we have a test flight programme: to find out the things that are right and wrong. After flight 1, and reviewing all the data, it's put us in a really strong position to go commercial earlier than we hoped."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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