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Next Rocket Lab mission to be dedicated launch for US NRO

Max Blenkin

Rocket Lab’s next launch is scheduled for the end of this month and will be a dedicated mission just for the US National Reconnaissance Office.

Next Rocket Lab mission to be dedicated launch for US NRO
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That will be the company’s first mission for 2020.

Rocket Lab has always chosen offbeat names for its launches and this one will be called Birds of a Feather.

It is scheduled to blast off from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s north island with the launch window opening on 31 January.

Rocket Lab has been moving towards recovering its Electron rocket first stages for reuse to reduce costs and speed up launch tempo. Although that won’t be attempted for this launch, the company will to guide the first stage as it returns.

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It will splash down in the Pacific ocean and won’t be recovered.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) develops and launches the US intelligence satellites. Consequently nothing has been revealed about the satellite to be launched on Birds of a Feather.

SpaceNews said this was NRO’s first launch awarded under a program launched in 2018 to use commercial providers to launch small satellites.

That’s called Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR), created to take advantage of emerging services offered by commercial small launch providers.

Lars Hoffman, Rocket Lab senior vice president for global launch services, said Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle was uniquely placed to deliver the kind of frequent, rapidly-acquired launch opportunities required by the NRO and other government agencies to ensure resiliency in space.

“We are honoured the NRO has selected Rocket Lab as the launch provider for this dedicated mission,” he said.

“The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements.

“As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure.”

This will be the 10th launch since Rocket Lab conducted its first test launch from New Zealand in May 2017 and its first commercial launch in January 2018.
So far the company has placed 47 satellites in orbit.

The next big development will be the first launch from the company’s new launch facility in the US, expected in second quarter this year.

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