NASA’s final pair of TROPICS hurricane research satellites lifted off on a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle from New Zealand on Thursday night (U.S. time). The two identical shoebox-size spacecraft launched at 11:46 p.m. EDT Thursday (0346 UTC Friday) from Rocket Lab’s privately-owned spaceport on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
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.