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Rocket Lab mission failure blamed on possible engine problem

An Electron rocket similar to this one launched in August from New Zealand failed during a launch Saturday, and the company blamed an engine issue that caused an automatic safety shutdown. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab
An Electron rocket similar to this one launched in August from New Zealand failed during a launch Saturday, and the company blamed an engine issue that caused an automatic safety shutdown. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab

May 17 (UPI) -- California-based launch company Rocket Lab has blamed a possible engine problem for the loss Saturday of its Electron rocket and commercial satellite payload.

The rocket fell safely into the Pacific Ocean off the company's launch site in New Zealand due to an automatic shutdown triggered by safety systems, according to the company.

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It was the 20th mission for Electron and the second such failure in the past year.

A pair of Earth observation satellites for Virginia-based BlackSky Global were lost in the accident. Such payloads are routinely insured against launch mishaps.

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"Preliminary data reviews suggest an engine computer detected an issue shortly after stage 2 engine ignition, causing the computer to command a safe shutdown as it is designed to do," the company said Monday.

No problems were detected in the first-stage booster, the largest part of the rocket.

Launch companies plan for such failures by ensuring the path of the rocket is clear of boats and people for liftoff, so the rocket's stages and payload fell without causing collateral damage, according to Rocket Lab.

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The company continued to collect data from telemetry systems as the booster fell, and was able to fish it out of the water for further study.

The company anticipates a "swift return to flight," according to a news release, and said no impact to future launches is anticipated.

"We deeply regret the loss of BlackSky's payload and we are committed to returning to flight safely and reliably for our customers," Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said in the release.

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The satellites would have been the eighth and ninth for BlackSky, which provides monitoring services for activities such as shipping and climate observation.

In a statement released after the accident, BlackSky CEO Brian O'Toole said the company could remain "on track to meet our business objectives."

"BlackSky has additional satellites ready to deploy, as well as an active production line with more satellites on track to be delivered over the course of this year," O'Toole said.

BlackSky did not respond to a request for more information about the satellites or its launch plans with Rocket Lab.

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