by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
Rocket Lab suffered its second launch failure in less than a year on Saturday as an Electron booster’s second stage appeared to tumble out of control immediately after its engine fired. Two optical Earth observation satellites owned by U.S.-based BlackSky were lost in the accident.
Rocket Lab’s third launch failure in 20 launches comes at a delicate time for the dedicated small satellite launch provider. Rocket Lab is in the midst of going public by merging with a company already listed on the nasdaq stock exchange. The merger will provide about $800 million that Rocket Lab needs to develop a larger booster to address competitive threats posed by smallsat launch rivals and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
SpaceX has soaked up hundreds of small satellites that are Rocket Lab’s core business with its Transporter rideshare mission, which uses the company’s highly-reliable Falcon 9 booster. In January, SpaceX launched a world record 143 micro- and nanosatellites for commercial and government customers. Elon Musk’s rocket company has scheduled the Transporter-2 launch for July. SpaceX has at least two other Transporter rideshare missions on its manifest over the next year.