Rocket Lab's Electron lifting off for the first time from Launch Complex 2 at Wallops Flight Facility. Jan. 24, 2023. Credits: Trevor Mahlmann

Electron Fails to Deploy a New Satellite for Capella Space

Rocket Lab's Electron failed to deploy an Acadia SAR satellite for Capella Space. The upper stage engine failed to ignite after a correct stage separation

Today, September 19, at 06:55 UTC a Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle lifted off from LC-1 at Mahia, New Zealand. The “We Will Never Desert You” mission should have deployed a new satellite for Capella Space, but the payload never reached its orbit.

Everything proceeded regularly until the stage separation, 2:25 minutes after liftoff. As visible in the live streaming of the launch, after separating from the first stage, the Rutherford Vacuum engine experienced ignition problems, with abnormal sparks coming from above the nozzle. The live video stopped, but for several seconds telemetric data continued to show a decrease in velocity.

The moment of Rutherford engine ignition failure after stage separation. Credits: Rocket Lab live
The moment of Rutherford engine ignition failure after stage separation. Credits: Rocket Lab live

Of course, it’s too early for official confirmation of the incident’s causes. Shortly after the end of the live coverage, Rocket Lab released a statement saying that the company is working closely with the FAA to proceed with the investigation into the reasons for the failure. The next mission, scheduled for the end of September, is postponed.

This is the 4th failed launch for Electron out of a total of 41, the first after 19 consecutive successes. It’s important to point out how all the failures are related to issues with the upper stage.


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The payload

Capella Space is a Californian company leader in providing the highest-quality imagery available. Its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites are capable of capturing clear images of the Earth in different weather conditions, day and night.

The Electron rocket was carrying the second Acadia satellite for Capella’s third-generation Earth-imaging LEO constellation, which should enhance the current “Whitney-class” constellation. Capella Space signed an overall of four launches with Rocket Lab to build its new constellation. The previous mission “We Love The Nightlife” successfully delivered the first Acadia satellite in August 2023.

Capella Space's Acadia satellite. Credits: Capella Space
Capella Space’s Acadia satellite. Credits: Capella Space

In August 2022, Capella announced the company’s third-generation SAR satellites, with great improvements compared to the previous ones:

  • Better image resolution thanks to an increased radar bandwidth, from 500 MHz to 700 MHz. Acadia satellites are capable of delivering images with a Slant Range Resolution down to 0.214 m and a Ground Range Resolution of 0.31 m.
  • Highest quality imagery thanks to Acadia’s scaling power, improved by 40%.
  • An upgraded downlink antenna that enables faster delivery speed, enabling customers to access more imaging capacity.
  • Acadia’s Optical Inter-Satellite Links (OISL) drastically reduce latency, allowing Capella Space to provide images of a specific area in less than 15 minutes. An important feature to respond promptly to national security requests under the US National Defence Space Architecture (NDSA).

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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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