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.
Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket from New Zealand at 9:20 p.m. EST Thursday (0220 GMT Friday) carrying 30 small payloads into low Earth orbit. The company said the first stage of the Electron rocket splashed down in the Pacific Ocean under a parachute, a major step in Rocket Lab’s rocket reuse program.