Rocket Lab Electron first stage (Source: Rocket Lab website)

Rocket Lab back in launch, accelerating pace

Fresh off a successful June 13, 2020 launch after a COVID-19 pause, Rocket Lab is now planning to conduct its next launch on July 3, 2020, just three weeks later. The company also announced plans to launch two Electron rockets within days of each other for the National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) using both of its New Zealand pads.

The “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” mission is scheduled to be launched from New Zealand on July 3 2020 and will deploy seven satellites for Canon Electronics, Planet, and In-Space missions.  Naming the mission comes from the imaging satellites onboard the flight.  Canon will launch its CE-SAT-IB, a microsatellite carrying high-resolution and wide-angle cameras for Earth Observation.  Originally scheduled for launch in 2019, the Canon satellite is designed to be mass produced and use off-the-shelf optics and electronic.  Canon Electronics have said they’d like to put up to 100 satellites into orbit and sell the analyzed imagery results to various markets as a value-added service.

Planet will add five SuperDoves to its fleet of over 130 medium-resolution imaging satellites. The SuperDoves include new sensors delivering higher imager quality and sharper and more colors for multispectral analysis.  Once Planet upgrades its entire fleet to SuperDoves, it will collect around 40 terabytes (TB) of data per day, imaging the entire Earth’s landmass on a nearly daily basis.

In-Space Missions is launching a 6U cubesat. The Faraday-1 is a hosted payload mission providing a low-cost route to orbit for start-ups and other institutions and businesses.  It will also demonstrate a software-defined payload that can be reprogrammed in flight for different tasks. The spacecraft was originally scheduled to go up in 2019 and the company needs to update its website.

Rocket Lab’s twelfth Electron launch put satellites for the NRO, NASA, and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space, with NRO a steady and favored customer.  In late spring 2021, Rocket Lab plans to launch the RASR-3 and RASR-4 missions for NRO “within weeks of each other” from two separate pads at the Rocket Lab LC-1 complex in New Zealand.

Launching missions separately from pads LC-1A and LC-1B, Rocket Lab will be able to eliminate pad recycle time required when launching from a single pad.  In theory, this would allow Rocket Lab to launch missions for customers just days or even hours apart, a capability long desired by the U.S. “national security community,” according to the Rocket Lab Press release.

The RASR-3 and RASR-4 missions are follow-ons from Rocket Lab missions conducted for the NRO in January 2020 and June 2020.  Rocket Lab also references its work to build a second launch facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA Wallops Island, providing a U.S. launch facility for national security organizations.  The company has said it has plans to initially build two payload processing facilities with the option to expand to four facilities, which would provide it with the ability to prep up to four missions in parallel if necessary.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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