When Rocket Lab conducted the first test launch of its Electron rocket on May 25, 2017, the launch vehicle reached space but did not achieve low Earth orbit. Now, the company, after an extensive investigation, has discovered why the glitch occurred. It turns out that corrupted telemetry data due to a software bug caused the flight to be terminated prematurely, according to Space News.

Why ‘rocket science’ is considered a synonym for something that is hard

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is a marvel of technological innovation. The Rutherford engines are made entirely of 3D printed parts, making them of lighter weight and higher performance than engines manufactured with traditional methods.

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The engines use pumps that use battery powered motors. The Electron has nine Rutherford engines in the first stage and one that has been configured to operate in a vacuum in the second. The rocket is designed to launch 150-kilogram payloads to a 500-kilometer sun synchronous orbit for a cost of just under $5 million from a launch facility in New Zealand.

The problem with the May 25 launch occurred when a ground based equipment that was supposed to translate signals from the Electron into data suffered a software glitch that in turn resulted in an interruption of data. The ground crew exploded the rocket as a precaution. However, had the flight been allowed to proceed, the Electron would have likely achieved orbit.

What happens now?

The good news is that the software glitch is easy to fix.

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That having been done, Rocket Lab intends to try another test launch in early October 2017. If the second attempt is successful, the company plans to cancel the planned third test and go straight to commercial operations in December 2017.

Rocket Lab’s first commercial laumch is likely to be #Moon Express attempt to land a private probe on the lunar surface. Moon Express has to launch before 2017 to qualify for the Google Lunar X-Prize for the first private moon landing. The prize consists of $20 million to land on the moon, return high definition videos and images, and move from the initial landing site at least 500 meters.

However, Moon Express has enough commercial customers for its first flight that it intends to launch regardless of whether it meets the end of the year deadline for the Google Lunar X-Prize. Its long term business plan is to provide transportation services to the lunar surface for both commercial and government customers and to eventually set up lunar mining operations. Besides the 2017 mission, Moon Express plans two more missions to the moon by 2020, the last of which is designed to return to lunar soil sample that will be used for both science and profit.

#lunar x prize