Rocket Lab cleared by the FAA to resume launches after mission failure last month

Rocket Lab has already received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to resume its launch activities, following a failure during the second-stage burn of its 20th Electron rocket mission that resulted in the loss of the payload. That’s a testament to Rocket Lab’s safety systems design, and everything working as intended when it encountered an anomaly, meaning that while the mission failed, it did so safely and without any risk to ground crew, the general population or other orbital objects.

This doesn’t mean Rocket Lab will actually resume launches immediately. While the FAA has determined that its existing launch license is still in good standing after the incident, the company itself will continue its investigation into the cause of the problem. Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck called the ongoing effort to determine the cause of the second-stage engine shutdown “an intricate and layered fault analysis,” but also noted that they have already replicated the error in testing.

Now, the focus will be on working out exactly the sequence of events and figuring out what exactly caused the automatic safety shut-off. That process is expected to be done sometime “in the coming weeks,” and at that point the company will proceed with resuming active flight activities.

Rocket Lab didn’t reference an earlier mission failure from last July in this update. It ultimately concluded that anomaly was the result of a bad electrical connection, but which had similar results with a second-stage engine safety shutdown.

The company did note that the information collected from the first stage of the Electron rocket that it recovered after the launch indicates that everything went as planned with that part of the mission. Rocket Lab is in the process of adding reusability to its Electron first-stage booster and had implemented a new atmospheric reentry and splashdown process test in this one, which went smoothly. The company added that the new heat shield it used for this flight worked as intended, and that it now plans to do hot fire testing on the engines from the recovered first stage to see how they perform.