Rocket Lab launches trio of satellites to support US military

Rocket Lab launches trio of satellites to support US military

Max Blenkin

Rocket Lab has successfully launched three satellites for the US military from its New Zealand launch facility.

The launch on Sunday came just five weeks after the previous launch, which the company said demonstrates its ability to provide rapid and responsive space access for government payloads.

The Rocket Lab Electron rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 4pm AEST.

This mission was Rocket Lab’s second for 2019 and took the total number of satellites deployed to orbit to 28 from five launches.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said this launch was a testament to the team and mission partners that Electron has placed another three satellites in orbit, just weeks after its mission for DARPA.

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“We’re proud to have delivered 100 per cent mission success for the launch procured by the Department of Defense’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, proving once again Rocket Lab’s ability to provide responsive and streamlined space access,” he said.

Beck founded Rocket Lab in New Zealand in 2006. The company subsequently relocated to the US.

 

The STP-27RD mission launched three research and development satellites for the US Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program, which will demonstrate advanced space technologies, including a satellite to evaluate new ways of tracking space debris.

The DoD Space Test Program, under Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, procured the STP-27RD mission, in partnership with Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative.

That aims to launch satellites through commercial small launch companies faster and cheaper than by traditional launch procedures.

About 54 minutes after lift-off, the Electron launch vehicle Kick Stage successfully deployed the three satellites to their designated orbits.

The Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat-1 (SPARC-1) mission, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), is a joint Swedish-US experiment to explore technology developments in avionics miniaturisation, software defined radio systems, and space situational awareness (SSA).

The Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment (Falcon ODE), sponsored by the US Air Force Academy, will evaluate ground-based tracking of space objects.

Harbinger, a commercial small satellite built by York Space Systems and sponsored by the US Army, will demonstrate the ability of an experimental commercial system to meet DoD space capability requirements.

The STP-27RD mission carried Rocket Lab’s heaviest payload to date, with the three satellites weighing in at 180 kilograms.

Rocket Lab said its manifest is booked with monthly launches for the rest of 2019 for a range of commercial and US government customers.

By end of year, the company plans to launch every two weeks. Most will be from Launch Complex 1. The first mission from the new Launch Complex 2 at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is scheduled for late 2019.

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