Rocket Lab has successfully launched four small satellites into orbit aboard an Electron rocket which blasted off from its New Zealand facility just after midnight local time.
That was the company’s fourth launch this year and the eighth so far. In line with the company’s practice of giving its launches oddball names, this one was called Look Ma No Hands.
That’s a reference to the launch procedure – the final step is to release the launchpad top clamp.
"Once Electron is free from the strongback's grasp, it's 'look ma, no hands' for Electron," said Rocket Lab spokesman Max Munsey during the launch broadcast.
The last launch was called Make It Rain while the first launches were It's a Test, which was followed by Still Testing and then It's Business Time.
This latest launch was postponed because of high winds at the launch site.
Fifty-three minutes after launch, the rocket successfully deployed its onboard satellite payload into low-Earth orbit.
That comprised three satellites from Seattle rideshare company Spaceflight, of which the largest was Global-4, the fourth high resolution imaging satellite for US company BlackSky.
The company’s Global-3 was launched on the last Rocket Lab mission in late June.
The other Spaceflight satellites were a pair of Pearl White 6U CubeSats for US Air Force Space Command.
These were built by Tiger Innovations and will test new space technologies, including propulsion, power, communications and drag capabilities for potential applications on future spacecraft.
The fourth satellite was also a 6U CubeSat built by Danish company GomSpace and launched for French company UnseenLabs.
This constellation aims to deliver precise, reliable and secure maritime data, enabling organisations to monitor their own vessels and observe those that present risks, such as pirates and illegal vessels.
Rocket Lab’s next big challenge is to reuse its first stage. The company announced earlier this month it would seek to recover and reuse the previously expendable stage.
Rocket lab chief executive Peter Beck said at the time they just couldn’t build enough rockets to meet launch demand.
The Look Ma No Hands rocket carried a recorder in the rocket's first stage to collect data during the first stage's re-entry.
Beck said that data would provide critical information for future first stage recovery and would inform an upgrade of the Electron to allow the first stage to survive re-entry. That will begin with the 10th launch.
Eventually, the rocket first stage will be slowed by parachute and recovered in mid-air by helicopter.
Rocket Lab’s next launch is scheduled for October, carrying the Kleos Scouting Mission, four satellites to also monitor maritime radio frequencies.
Kleos is based in Luxembourg and listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and plans a constellation of 20 satellites.
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