BlackSky Global-3 integration on Electron (Source: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab’s latest puts satellites for BlackSky, Swarm, and U.S. military into orbit

Last week, Rocket Lab successfully launched its seventh Electron mission.  The launch put seven satellites into orbit, including the BlackSky Global-3 imaging satellite, two IoT (Internet of Things) satellites for Swarm Technologies, and a pair of communications satellites for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The Make It Rain mission, a rideshare chartered by Spaceflight, lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on June 29 at 4:30 PM local time.  It is the third launch the company has conducted this year and Rocket Lab expects to conduct monthly launches for the remainder of 2019 and ramp up to launching every two weeks in 2020.   The first mission from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 being built at Wallops Island, VA is expected to take place later this year.

The BlackSky Global-3 imaging satellite, capable of 1 meter resolution, is the third satellite of an expected operational constellation of 60 spacecraft. Parent company Spaceflight has been leveraging its’ rideshare business to get BlackSky satellites into space, with the first two Global satellites launched onboard a PSLV and the first SpaceX Falcon 9 dedicated rideshare mission.

Swarm Technologies SpaceBEE-8 and SpaceBEE-9 are 1U cubesats. The satellites are expected to test a new antenna configuration and “an even more advanced onboard communications system” according to a company Tweet.  Swarm has filed paperwork with the FCC to launch up to 150 satellites for its IoT constellation, but questions remain as to if will get formal permission to launch its 0.25U satellites as a part of the deployment and if it will be able to secure spectrum for its operations currently licensed to ORBCOMM.

Developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), at least 3 Prometheus satellites have been launched this year.  The 1.5U satellites are designed to be low-cost, easy to operate, and provide a relevant communications capability to military forces on the ground – in this case SOCOM, likely for test rather than operational use.  Each satellite is expected to have an on-orbit life of three to five years and support data rates capable of transferring audio and video when a satellite is overhead. The first Prometheus was launched in June with a group of NASA and Air Force satellites onboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy STP-2 mission on June 25. 

Two other satellites were onboard the Make It Rain mission. One was a classified payload and the other a student-built 1U cubesat sponsored by the Melbourne Space Program of Australia.  

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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