Rocket Lab's Electron Booster took off at 1:33 a.m. EST (0633 GMT, 7:33 p.m. New Zealand time) Sunday carrying 13 U.S.-built CubeSats to orbit on a mission chartered by NASA. Credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Rocket Lab Rocket Lab's commercial electron booster fired into orbit from New Zealand on Sunday, carrying a flock of 13 CubeSats on the company's first mission chartered by NASA, and closing out a landmark year for the new small launch launch provider as Rocket Lab aims to grow its flight rate to at least one per month in 2019. The 56-foot-tall (17-meter) electron rocket powered by kerosene-fueled Rutherford main engines with 3D-printed pumps, took off from Launch Complex 1 at Rocket Lab's spaceport on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island at 1:33 am EST (0633 GMT, 7:33 pm New Zealand Time) Sunday. The rocket's nine first stage engines powered the Electron launcher toward the south, throttling up to full power with more than 40,000 pounds of thrust as the rocket climbed into the stratosphere, then detached to call into the Pacific Ocean around two and a half minutes after liftoff. A second stage with a single Rutherford engine ignited to reach a preliminary parking orbit around nine minutes into the flight, and a liquid -fueled kick stage separated, coasted across Antarctica, and then ignited its Curie engine for a planned 90-second burn to inject the mission's 13 CubeSat payloads into a near-circular orbit around 310 miles (500 miles) above Earth, with a ground track…
Rocket Lab’s Electron Booster took off at 1:33 a.m. EST (0633 GMT, 7:33 p.m. New Zealand time) Sunday carrying 13 U.S.-built CubeSats to orbit on a mission chartered by NASA. Credit: Trevor Mahlmann / Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab’s commercial electron booster fired into orbit from New Zealand on Sunday, carrying a flock of 13 CubeSats on the company’s first mission chartered by NASA, and closing out a landmark year for the new small launch launch provider as Rocket Lab aims to grow its flight rate to at least one per month in 2019.
The 56-foot-tall (17-meter) electron rocket powered by kerosene-fueled Rutherford main engines with 3D-printed pumps, took off from Launch Complex 1 at Rocket Lab’s spaceport on the eastern coast of New Zealand’s North Island at 1:33 am EST (0633 GMT, 7:33 pm New Zealand Time) Sunday.
The rocket’s nine first stage engines powered the Electron launcher toward the south, throttling up to full power with more than 40,000 pounds of thrust as the rocket climbed into the stratosphere, then detached to call into the Pacific Ocean around two and a half minutes after liftoff.
A second stage with a single Rutherford engine ignited to reach a preliminary parking orbit around nine minutes into the flight, and a liquid -fueled kick stage separated, coasted across Antarctica, and then ignited its Curie engine for a planned 90-second burn to inject the mission’s 13 CubeSat payloads into a near-circular orbit around 310 miles (500 miles) above Earth, with a ground track inclined 85 degrees to the equator.
Rocket Lab announced all 13 CubeSats deployed from the kick stage, and company founder and chief executive Peter Beck called it a “perfect mission” on Twitter.
The US-New Zealand Company has a privately-owned launch base and assembly center in New Zealand, and its corporate headquarters and an engine factory are located in southern california. Sunday’s launch was the third successful flight by Rocket Lab this year – and the second in five weeks – following a test flight in May 2017, which fell short of orbit, but tested many of the Electron rocket’s key systems.
The nanosatellites launched Sunday come from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Glenn Research Center and Langley Research Center, along with the US Naval Academy and educational institutions in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico and West Virginia. There are also CubeSats from the Aerospace Corp. based in Southern California, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – the research and development arm of the U.S.
Ten of the CubeSats launched Sunday are part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or ELaNa, program.
“The ELaNa 19 mission was a significant one for NASA, the Rocket Lab team and the small satellite industry overall,” Beck said in a statement. “To launch two missions just five weeks apart, and in the first year of orbital flights, is unprecedented. It’s exactly what the small satellite industry desperately needs, and Rocket Lab is proud to be delivering it. Regular and reliable launch is now a reality for small satellites. The wait is over.
“We are providing small satellite customers with more control than they have ever had, enabling them to launch on their own schedule, to exact orbits, as often as they need to,” Beck said.
The Electron Rocket is sized to drag small satellites into orbit, and it’s the first of a wave of new light-class commercial launchers in development to enter service.
The CeREs CubeSat, or the Compact Radiation Belt Explorer, is loaded inside its deployment canister at Rocket Lab’s facility in Huntington Beach, California. Credit: NASA
Like its competitors in the smallsat launch market, Rocket Lab says it can provide CubeSats and microsatellites a dedicated ride into orbit at a bargain price per flight. Smuggling has previously launched as secondary payloads, usually at the whim of the rocket’s main passenger, which forced small owners to compromise on orbital parameters such as inclination and altitude, which can affect the commercial utility to scientific output of a space mission.
Rocket Lab’s first launch pad is in New Zealand, but the company is building a second path at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Rocket Lab is headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, where it builds engines and avionics for the Electron vehicle. The Auckland site is home to the company’s mission control center, tank production and Electron’s final assembly hall.
“It’s great because now we have the ability to have our own vehicle class that focuses on the small arena,” said Garrett Skrobot, a senior mission manager from NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center, which oversees the launch of the agency’s science missions. “To me, it’s opening the door to a lot of new adventures for the small payload class and community. It’s not just us. De andre regeringsorganerne ser også dette. The commercial market is looking at it. “
As space technology matures, miniaturized components allow fleets of smallsats to do missions that once required larger spacecraft that are more expensive to build and launch. Bedrijven zoals Planet and Spire zijn met CubeSats voor Earth-imaging, weervoorspelling, en vliegtuigen en scheepsopsporing, en grote constellaties van relatief kleine koelstor-communicatie satellieten zijn gepland door SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat en andere bedrijven.
” Se på hvor mange flokke (Earth-observing CubeSats) er der oppe fra Planet, og vi har sett andre mennesker sætte dem opp, “Skrobot sa i et interview med Spaceflight Now. “
NASA started the Venture Class Launch Services program to test the waters of the burgeoning small launch market, and the space agency signed The first three VCLS launch contracts in 2015 with Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Firefly Space Systems.
Rocket Lab is the first of the group to be ready for a NASA mission. Virgin Orbit’s air-dropped LauncherOne rocket is scheduled for its first orbital test flight in early 2019, and NASA plans to launch a fleet of CubeSats on a subsequent LauncherOne mission next year.
NASA terminated the contract with Firefly Space Systems when the company kunne ikke opfylde sine kontraktuelle forpligtelser. The Texas-based company later folded, but came back under new ownership and with a new name – Firefly Aerospace – and has renewed its launcher development effort.
“With any rocket development, there are going to be some delays,” Scrobot told Spaceflight Now. “De løper i problemer og bekymringer i hele processen med at utvikle deres kjøretøy. We understood that. Dette er mere vi ser dem udvikle bilen for fremtiden enn det er en tur for CubeSats. Yes, we want to be the CubeSats to be successful. Men, fra et programmatisk perspektiv for det byrå, det er å bidra til at vi har dette nye kapasitet for vores videnskabelige mission direktorat eller teknologidirektoratet, muligheden for at få deres missioner til plads til en rimelig pris. “
NASA took a hands-off approach with the Venture Class Launch Services contractors, a change from the agency’s close-up oversight of launch companies, it pays to send more expensive satellites into space providers such as United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.
Rather than dispatching a team of engineers, managers and technicians to the Rocket Lab launch base in New Zealand, Skrobot said NASA sent one employee from KSC.
“The whole concept behind this is it’s a FAA licensed commercial release, so we want to keep the crews very small, so we do not have much of insight and oversight, “Skrobot said.” So we sent one individual, an integration engineer / mission manager-type who went down there, and we do have on
Rocket Lab’s launch contract with NASA for Sunday’s flight was valued at $ 6.9 million, more than an order of magnitude less than what the space agency pays for launches on bigger rockets.  The Electron rocket can carry up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) or payload in a polar orbit around 310 miles (500 miles) above Earth. The rocket’s capacity to a lower-altitude orbit is up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms).
“They may be a little higher (cost) per kilogram, but we have a dedicated vehicle,” said Scrobot of the new smallsat launch providers. Right now, we’re looking at flying payloads on ESPA (secondary payload) rings. That’s very good. Men hver enkelt af disse ESPA-ringbelastningsbelastninger skal gå i banen, hvor den primære nyttelast er gået, eller et sted lidt under det. Inclination changes are very difficult to do.
“We may be paying a little more per kilogram (with Venture Class Launch Services), but now these smaller payloads have the ability to go to the exact orbit they really need to order to gain as much science as possible for the particular orbit they want. They could fly on an ESPA (secondary payload ring), but now maybe they will get more science out of having their own dedicated vehicles in the future, “said Scrobot.
The ELaNa 19 mission launched Sunday was the first dedicated mission for the NASA CubeSat launch program – which Skrobot helped kick off a decade ago – following a series of past CubeSat missions that hitched rides aboard Dragon and Cygnus supply ships bound for the International Space Station, and as secondary payloads at Antares, Atlas 5, Delta 2, Falcon 9 and Minotaur Rockets.
NASA typically accepts proposals every year from CubeSat developers at US universities and research organizations, then funds the launch of the best projects. Launch costs for CubeSats can sometimes match, or even exceed, the expense of building the spacecraft itself.
The 310-mile-high deployment on Sunday’s Electron mission will allow the CubeSats, ranging in mass from around 3.4 pounds (1.5 kilograms) to more than 15 pounds (7 kilograms), to remain in orbit longer than it was released from the space station, due to the reduced atmospheric drag at higher altitudes.
The CubeSail nanosatellite, which actually consists of two spacecraft connected with a solar sail ribbon, is prepared for launch earlier this year at Rocket Lab’s payload processing facility in Huntington Beach, California. Credit: NASA
“Some of the CubeSats prefer to go off ISS, they are quicker and easier, but they have to live at a lower inclination and a lower altitude.
The CubeSats launched aboard the Electron rocket through NASA’s ELaNa program are:
“The CubeSats of ELaNa 19 represent a wide variety of scientific goals and technology demonstrations, “said Justin Treptow, NASA’s ELaNa 19 mission manager. “Med dette den første lanceringen af en Venture Class Launch Service på Rocket Lab Electron, NASA har nu en mulighed for at matche vores små satellitmissioner med et dedikeret lille lanceringsfartøj til at placere disse satellitter i et optimalt orbit for at opnå store resultater.”  In addition to the 10 CubeSats launched through NASA’s ELaNa program, three more nanosatellites flew into the orbit on top of the Electron Rocket Sunday. NASA also provided a launch opportunity for:
An inert test version of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket is undergoing captive carry test flights under the wing of the company’s modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft. Credit: Virgin Orbit
Rocket Lab’s Electron Vehicle joins NASA’s catalog of available launchers
NASA currently does not have any more missions booked with Rocket Lab, but the Electron Rocket will be among the launcher options available to the agency’s future Explorer-class missions of opportunity, a family of science missions with costs typically capped at $ 55 million.
A document updated Dec. 10 attached to a recent draft call for a new NASA Explorer mission of opportunity proposals lists the Rocket Lab Electron and Virgin Orbit LauncherOne as potential rockets for missions requiring a dedicated launch.
“There are missions within NASA that are looking at these particular vehicles, “Skrobot said Tuesday. “We do offer these in our missions of opportunity. Du vil se når vi begynner å frigjøre våre oppdrag eller muligheter for våre SMEX-AO’er eller våre MIDEX-AOS (små og mellomstore Explorer-oppdrag), du vil se en seksjon der for oppdrag eller muligheter ved bruk av disse typer av biler. “ “We have Virgin and Rocket Lab in what we call our catalog, and the catalog identifies all the options for small payloads, be it a CubeSat flying in a deployer, flying on our EELV (Atlas 5, Delta 4, or Falcon 9 ) vehicles on an ESPA, and we also have Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit on there as well as opportunities.
“There is still some risk with Virgin (Orbit) right now because they have not flown yet, so we’re Vi tar vare på det, og vi vil fortelle våre kunder at når de begynner å fly, får vi mer data, og vi vil være i stand til å gi dem bedre innsikt i det. But now with Rocket Lab online, we will be able to offer it to our NASA customers. “
Rocket Lab set to ramp up launch rate
Rocket Lab plans to increase its launch date next year to average at least one mission per month, with a goal of launching every two weeks by the end of 2019.
In an October interview, Beck said Rocket Lab has up to 16 launches scheduled in 2019 , including the first flight from Wallops Island, Virginia.
“Our goal at the end of next year is to launch once a week, and as we move into 2020, launching once a week,” Beck said in October. “We are tracking a pretty big pipeline of customers, and we have been very fortunate that people have put their trust in us. For us, it’s making sure we do everything we can to deliver these customers’ payloads to orbit. “
In a statement issued after Sunday’s launch, Rocket Lab says the next Electron rocket should be on the launch pad in New Zealand in January .
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