Rocket Lab January 31 "Birds of a Feather" launch (Source: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab starts 2020 with successful NRO satellite launch

Last week Rocket Lab successfully put a satellite into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  It marks the company’s 11th Electron mission and highlights Rocket Lab’s relationship with U.S. government customers.

The “Birds of a Feather” mission lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand at 3:46 PM local time on January 31. It was the company’s first launch in 2020 and the first dedicated launch of an NRO payload from New Zealand.

“Starting our 2020 launch manifest with a successful mission for the NRO is an immensely proud moment for our team. It once again demonstrated our commitment to providing responsive, dedicated access to space for government small satellites,” says Rocket Lab founder and Chief Executive Peter Beck. “Thank you to the NRO for selecting Electron for this historic mission, and congratulations to the Rocket Lab team on another flawless launch that continues our heritage of 100% mission success for customers.”

Exactly what the satellite does is unknown because the NRO doesn’t talk about specific satellites or missions due to security reasons.

NRO selected Rocket Lab through a new competitive contract mechanism allowing the U.S. government agency to explore new launch opportunities providing a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.  Many of the satellites Rocket Lab has put into orbit have been for the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or NASA.  Opening of the LC-2 complex will only add to the number of U.S. government missions conducted by the company.  

Rocket Lab successfully deployed the NRO payload to its final orbit and gained bonus data by conducting a guided re-entry of the Electron’s first stage. It was the second successful re-entry test guiding an Electron booster down to sea-level intact, proving Rocket Lab should be able to recover and reuse the Electron first stage in the future.

It will be a busy year for Rocket Lab. The company plans to conduct monthly Electron launches this year, including the first mission from its new LC-2 launch facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.  Rocket Lab is also adding another launch pad at LC-1 and opened a new headquarters and production complex in Long Beach, California.

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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