"As the Crow Flies" delivers Astro Digital satellite to orbit (Source: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab successful launches cryptic Astro Digital satellite

Small satellite launcher Rocket Lab has successfully conducted its ninth Electron mission, putting a single spacecraft into orbit for satellite manufacturer Astro Digital. What the Astro Digital spacecraft exactly does is a little bit mysterious.

“As the Crow Flies” lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand at 9:22 ET, with the 16U satellite placed into a circular orbit of more than 1,000 kilometers. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the company’s kick stage engine, including a move to a bi-propellent design for improved performance.

“Congratulations to the Astro Digital team for readying the spacecraft and taking advantage of an earlier launch opportunity. Our teams worked closely to deliver a flawless mission in a demonstration of the truly responsive space launch that small satellites need,” said Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck. “No longer do small satellite operators have to accept the limitations of flying as a secondary payload, nor do they have to wait endlessly on the manifest of unproven launch vehicles. Frequent, responsive, and reliable launch is the new norm for small satellites thanks to Electron.”

Successful completion of Rocket Lab’s ninth mission places the total number of satellites into orbit at 40 and a continued streak of 100 percent mission success for customers.

The spacecraft put into orbit was an Astro Digital Palisade technology demonstration satellite, a 16U Cubesat with on-board propulsion and communications systems developed by Astro Digital. “As the Crow Flies” was a dedicated launch for Astro Digital that was pulled forward after another customer wanted a later launch date.

Rocket Lab’s next mission is scheduled for a late November date from LC-1. The company will also complete work on its LC-2 complex at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility by the end of the year, with the first LC-2 launch planned for early in 2020.

It should be noted Astro Digital hasn’t described exactly what this satellite will demonstration in the way of communications, given its 16U size. Will it be capable of broadband communications? Support IoT? Voice? IoT applications proper is unlikely given the average IoT store-and-forward cubesat is 6U in size. Multiple Twitter inquiries to Astro Digital for specifics have gone unanswered.

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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