The 20th flight of a Rocket Lab Electron launcher appeared to run into trouble a few minutes after liftoff at 7:11 a.m. EDT (1111 GMT) Saturday from New Zealand, when video showed the rocket’s upper stage tumbling and shutting off its engine prematurely. The rocket was carrying two commercial BlackSky Earth observation satellites into orbit.
The scheduled launch Saturday of two commercial BlackSky Earth-imaging satellites from New Zealand will double as an opportunity for Rocket Lab to test an enhanced heat shield on its Electron booster, an upgrade that should allow the company to recover rockets in better condition for eventual reuse.
A week after scrubbing a launch attempt to evaluate an issue with an oxygen sensor, Rocket Lab launched a mission Wednesday to deliver 10 small commercial Earth observation satellites to orbit. Liftoff of the Electron booster from Rocket Lab’s spaceport in New Zealand occurred at 5:21 p.m. EDT (2121 GMT).