Every rocket has a failure at some point and this probably "hurts our pride more than anything", said Rocket Lab co-founder and chief executive Peter Beck of today's mission failure – the company's first after 12 successful flights.

The good news is no one was hurt - the rocket burned up on re-entering the atmosphere on a safe trajectory after an anomaly occurred in late-stage flight after takeoff from the Mahia Peninsula launch pad this morning.

And while the financial cost of the rocket and the high-tech payload on board is significant, customers are expected to be insured for the incident.

Talking to the media a few hours after the Electron rocket failed to reach orbit, Beck said it was a tough day for the company and its staff.

One of the final images from today's Rocket Lab launch before visuals were lost and the rocket started losing altitude. Photo / Rocket Lab
One of the final images from today's Rocket Lab launch before visuals were lost and the rocket started losing altitude. Photo / Rocket Lab

"I am deeply sorry for the loss of the rocket and the payload for our customers … however, we will leave no stone unturned to figure out what happened today so we can learn from it and get back to the pad as soon as possible.

"This is something that we always prepare for but never want to experience but we have lots of vehicles in production and we are ready for rapid return to flight as soon as these investigations are complete."

Asked who would bear the cost of the loss, Beck said payload customers typically had insurance in place for these kinds of events. The rocket launch itself, not including the satellite equipment on board, started at US$7.5 million ($11.5m), he said.

The primary payload for the launch was a 67kg imaging satellite built by Canon Electronics, whose launch was arranged by Spaceflight Inc.

The satellite, capable of taking images with a resolution of 90cm, was intended to demonstrate the spacecraft's technologies as the company prepared mass production of similar satellites.

The mission, named "Pics Or It Didn't Happen, also included five shoebox-sized Earth observation satellites, for San Francisco company Planet, designed to image Earth from above.

Rocket Lab co-founder Peter Beck.
Rocket Lab co-founder Peter Beck.

"The financial loss here is generally covered from our customers by insurance," Beck said.

"The bigger loss for us as a company is the time that it's going to take for us to investigate fully and make the corrective actions to the launch vehicle. So we won't put another vehicle in the sky until we are really, really happy … we've got tens of thousands of data streams to trawl through to make those corrections."


Asked how significant a setback that could be, Beck remained optimistic.

"We were the fourth most launched rocket in the world last year and this is something we always prepared for … every rocket has a failure at some point, so this is probably hurts our pride a lot more than anything.

"But this doesn't really affect our business or viability thereof in any way."

He said the company would leave no stone unturned to figure out what happened and get back to the launchpad. The company had been planning a launch every month for the rest of the year.

"One thing that is important to remember is Electron is one of the most frequently launched rockets in the world today and we've had 12 consecutive launches to space and this is a bit of a reminder about how hard this is.

"It's not the outcome we wanted today but not untypical in the space industry -unfortunately these sorts of failures do occur from time to time."


Rocket Lab's launch came just three weeks after its most recent mission and was brought forward a day earlier than planned because of bad weather due later this week.

Since its inception, Rocket Lab has put 53 spacecraft into low-Earth orbit on 12 separate missions, with this weekend's launch the third for Rocket Lab this year.

"Let me put it this way, I'm not naming anything after the number 13 ever again and I'm not a superstitious person," Beck said when asked to give comment on the unlucky number and in reference to Apollo 13 moon flight that failed two days into the mission.