Like clockwork, Rocket Lab is gearing up for its ninth Electron launch, the fifth mission of this year. The launch to put an Astro Digital satellite into orbit will have an open launch window starting on October 15 New Zealand time.
Named “As the Crow Flies” as a reference to Astro Digital’s Corvus satellite family, the Corvus line scales from 6U cubesats to ESPA-sized spacecraft. No details as to the primary purpose or payload on the satellite were made available by Astro Digital or in the Rocket Lab press release. The launch will take place from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand and the Astro Digital spacecraft will be the only payload.
Astro Digital has launched four wide area Landmapper-BC earth observation satellites, sized at 6U and providing multi-spectral imagery with 22 meter resolution. It is possible the satellite to be launched later this month is the company’s first Landmapper-HD satellite, a 16U sized spacecraft providing 5-band multispectral imaging capabilities at 2.5 meters resolution. A Landmapper-HD satellite was slated to be launched on a Vector rocket in 2019, but with Vector’s financial/management issues “pausing operations” Astro no doubt sought other options.
“As the Crow Flies” is being moved forward on Rocket Lab’s 2019 launch manifest because the customer slated to launch in October requested a later launch date. Rocket Lab is citing the payload shift as evidence of the value of small satellite launchers to rapidly adapt to customer circumstances.
Last month, Rocket Lab announced it had completed a major construction milestone at its Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Port (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. The company expects to complete construction by the end of the year and conduct the first Electron launch from U.S. soil in early 2020.