Rocket Lab successfully launches NASA CubeSats

It’s launch season. On December 16 Rocket Lab has launched its third orbital mission of 2018, successfully deploying satellites to orbit for NASA.

Rocket Lab (a private American aerospace manufacturer and launcher in New Zealand) is providing rapid and repeatable access to orbit for small satellites. It has developed a suborbital sounding rocket named Ātea and currently operates a lightweight orbital rocket known as Electron, which provides dedicated launches for small sats and CubeSats. The ELaNa 19 mission follows just five weeks after the successful ‘It’s Business Time’ launch in November, and marks Rocket Lab’s third orbital launch for 2018.

Photo credit: Trevor Mahlmann

On Sunday, December 16, 2018 UTC, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted off at 06:33 UTC from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. After being launched to an elliptical orbit, Electron’s Curie engine-powered kick stage separated from the vehicle’s second stage before circularizing to a 500×500 km orbit at an 85 degree inclination. By 56 minutes into the mission, the 13 satellites on board were  individually deployed to their precise, designated orbits. 

Until now, launch opportunities for small satellites have mostly been limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on large launch vehicles. Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck says the ELaNa-19 mission represents a forward-thinking approach from NASA to acquiring launch services and recognizes the increasingly significant role small satellites are playing in exploration, technology demonstration, research and education. 

“The ELaNa-19 mission was a significant one for NASA, the Rocket Lab team and the small satellite industry overall. To launch two missions just five weeks apart, and in the first year of orbital flights, is unprecedented. It’s exactly what the small satellite industry desperately needs, and Rocket Lab is proud to be delivering it. Regular and reliable launch is now a reality for small satellites. The wait is over,” says Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck. “We’re providing small satellite customers with more control than they’ve ever had, enabling them to launch on their own schedule, to precise orbits, as frequently as they need to.”

NASA ELaNa-19 Mission Manager Justin Treptow adds, “The CubeSats of ELaNa-19 represent a large variety of scientific objectives and technology demonstrations. With this the first launch of a Venture Class Launch Service on the Rocket Lab Electron, NASA now has an option to match our small satellite missions with a dedicated small launch vehicle to place these satellites in an optimal orbit to achieve big results.

The next Rocket Lab Electron vehicle will be on the pad at Launch Complex 1 in January 2019. For those who have cosmic wanderlust, these promise to be exciting times!

ELECTRON AT ROCKET LAB LAUNCH COMPLEX 1 | Māhia Peninsula, 2017 credits: Rocket Lab

Electron is launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, the world’s only private orbital launch range. Located in Māhia, New Zealand, and licensed to launch up to 120 times per year, Rocket Lab can accommodate an unprecedented launch cadence and reach orbital inclinations from sun-synchronous through to 39 degrees from a single site. Rocket Lab is also developing a second launch site to provide unmatched schedule and launch location freedom. 

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