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Rocket Lab demonstrates fastest launch turnaround to date

Stephen Kuper
Rocket Lab demonstrates fastest launch turnaround to date

After a successful launch that included a research CubeSat for the Royal Australian Air Force and UNSW Canberra, Rocket Lab has confirmed its next Electron mission is scheduled to launch just three weeks after its most recent mission.

The mission, ‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen’, is scheduled to launch from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 Pad A on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula no earlier than 3 July 2020 UTC — just days after the successful launch of Rocket Lab’s most recent mission, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, on 13 June 2020 UTC.

The back-to-back missions will represent Rocket Lab’s fastest turnaround between missions to date. ‘Pics Or It Didn’t Happen’ will deploy seven small satellites to a 500 kilometre circular low-Earth orbit for a range of customers, including Spaceflight’s customer Canon Electronics, as well as Planet and In-Space Missions.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, said launching missions just days apart demonstrates Rocket Lab’s unique capability to provide dedicated and responsive space access to small satellite customers.


The primary payload aboard this mission, Canon Electronics’ CE-SAT-IB, was procured by satellite rideshare and mission management provider Spaceflight.

The mission objective for the CE-SAT-IB satellite is to demonstrate Canon Electronics’ Earth-imaging technology with high-resolution and wide-angle cameras, as well as test the microsatellite for mass production.

The next five spacecrafts manifested for this mission are the latest generation of SuperDove satellites manufactured by Planet, operator of the world’s largest constellation of Earth-observation satellites.

"Rocket Lab has eliminated the small sat waiting room for orbit. We’ve focused heavily on shoring up our rapid launch capability in recent years and we’re proud to be putting that into practice for the small sat community with launches just days apart," Beck explained. 


Planet’s satellites are capable of imaging the Earth’s entire landmass on a near-daily basis. This unprecedented dataset helps researchers, students, businesses and governments discover patterns, detect early signals of change, and make timely, informed decisions.

These five SuperDoves, Flock 4v, are equipped with new sensors to enable higher image quality with sharper, more vibrant colors and accurate surface reflectance values for advanced algorithms and time-series analysis.

Beck added, "We’re excited to continue expanding our responsive space capability with our third launch pad coming online before the end of the year, as well as the continued growth of our Photon satellite program that enables our small sat operators to do more, spend less, and get to orbit faster."

The final spacecraft aboard Electron for this mission has been supplied by British small mission prime, In-Space Missions. The Faraday-1 6U CubeSat is a hosted payload mission providing a low-cost route to orbit for start-ups, institutions and large corporate R&D groups. 

In addition, it provides a first flight demonstration of In-Space’s own software-defined payload that will enable uploadable payload capabilities on future missions. Faraday-1 is the first flight of the Faraday service with four future satellites already under contract.

With a new Electron launch vehicle built every 18 days, Rocket Lab remains on target to deliver monthly launches for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, including the company’s first launch from Launch Complex 2 for the US Space Force in Q3 and a mission to the moon for NASA aboard Electron and Rocket Lab’s spacecraft bus platform Photon in 2021.

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