Rocket Lab mission blasts off, U.S. spy agency's satellites deployed

Rodiano Bonacci
Июня 14, 2020

The primary payloads on the Electron were three small satellites for the NRO, details about which, including their missions, sizes or even names, neither the company nor the agency disclosed.

It is the company's first launch since national Covid-19 restrictions eased, and the 12th Electron mission.

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket successfully launched a set of payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office and two universities June 13 on a mission delayed two and a half months by the coronavirus pandemic.

Onboard the rocket includes several small satellites, including the ANDESITE (Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) satellite created by electrical and mechanical engineering students and professors at Boston University. Rocket Lab later confirmed that payload deployment also went exactly to plan once the Electron reached its target orbit.

Rocket Lab has been gearing up for significant expansion of its launch capabilities, with a new launch site in the US on Wallops Island in Virginia. Procured under the agency's Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle, RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space, as well as provide those working in the small satellite community with timely and cost-effective access to space. The launch facility is now open, and its first mission had been scheduled to fly earlier this year, but that launch got pushed back in part because of delays resulting from NASA's efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 with facility closures and a focus on essential missions.

Those payloads will be joined by the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a collaboration between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space and the Australian Government.

"Missions like this one are testament to the flexibility we offer small satellite operators through our ability to deploy multiple payloads to precise and individual orbits on the same launch", Beck said in a post-launch statement. The company originally scheduled the launch for late March but postponed it because of restrictions on activities in New Zealand meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In late April, Rocket Lab also announced it had rolled an Electron vehicle out to its Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island in the USA state of Virginia.

Earlier in 2020, the Green Party raised concerns about the company launching a rocket for a U.S. intelligence agency off the coast of New Zealand.

Now, Rocket Lab is preparing for it's first USA launch, which will take place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia in the third quarter of 2020.

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