"It's Business Time" on the pad (Source: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab “It’s Business Time” on deck for Spire, GeoOptics

Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab plans its third launch later this week,  with the first attempt starting on the evening of June 22 (Eastern Time) from the company’s facility in New Zealand. “It’s Business Time” will carry commercial satellites for Spire Global and GeoOptics to orbit along with technology demonstration and education payloads.

“It’s Business Time” will carry two Spire Global Lemurs into orbit.  This will be the second time Rocket Lab is putting Lemurs into orbit.  A pair of Lemur-2 satellites went up on Rocket Lab’s second test flight on January 21, 2018.  The latest version of the Lemur-2 satellite carries three commercial payloads, including a GPS radio occultation payload to improve weather forecasting, AIS ship tracking, and ADS-B aircraft tracking.  Spire Global plans an operational constellation of around 100 to 150 cubesats in orbit. The company currently has over fifty Lemur satellites in orbit collecting over 28 million ship location reports a day.

GeoOptics will add another CICERO GPS radio occultation (GPS-RO) cubesat to its handful through this launch.  CICERO is a 6U size CubeSat built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems weighing in at around 10 kilograms. The Pasadena, CA -based company has a data purchase contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the agency’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, along with Spire Global.   GeoOptics wants to have a constellation of 100 CICERO style satellites collecting information.

GPS-RO data collected by a fleet of satellites is extremely valuable as it provides detailed information on atmosphere temperature and density in a very localized fashion. The data provides significant improvement to weather forecasting models, something everyone gains benefit from.

“It’s Business Time” was initially planned for launch in late April, but a hardware problem uncovered during a dress rehearsal pushed the launch back.  The delay enabled Rocket Lab to add two additional passengers to the flight, an educational cubesat and a drag sail technology demonstrator, a rapid addition that the company touts as an asset.

“Rocket Lab’s responsive space model is crucial to support the exponential growth of the small satellite market. That a customer can come to us seeking a ride to orbit and we can have them booked to launch in weeks is unheard of in the launch business,”  Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck says.

IRVINE01 is a product of the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program, built by students from six different high schools in the city of Irvine, California.  The satellite carriers a low-resolution camera that will be used to take pictures of Venus, stars, and other celestial objects, with the data used to calculate distances to stars and determine the pointing accuracy and stability of the satellite.

NABEO is a drag sail demonstrator designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmBH. The drag sail is a system created to passively de-orbit inactive small satellites. The small sail is an ultra-thin membrane that can be coiled up tightly within a spacecraft and then deployed once the satellite reaches the end of its orbital lifespan, ensuring much faster de-orbiting and reducing the amount of space debris.

Today, Rocket Labs launches from a dedicated site in New Zealand, but the company is investigating other facilities around Florida’s Space Coast and in Alaska.  Rocket Labs wants to launch at a rate of once per month by the end of 2018 and ramp up to a rate of up to one hundred launches per year.

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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