Tag Archives: Electron

Rocket Lab launch failure

Electron 34 seconds from launch

UPDATE: Mere seconds after I uploaded the post below, Rocket Lab announced that something had gone wrong late in the launch, resulting in the loss of all seven satellites.

This failure is the company’s second since their first test launch attempt. It will certainly prevent them from their goal this year of monthly launches.

The failure also changes the launch standings below. Rocket Lab is no longer among the leaders, and the U.S. leads China 16 to 14.

The original post:
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Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully completed the thirteenth launch of its Electron rocket, placing seven smallsats into orbit.

The picture above, captured from their live feed 34 seconds before launch, is most amusing because of the white sheep and black cattle grazing in the foreground.

This launch, three weeks after their previous launch, was their fastest turn-around so far. They made no attempt this time to recover the first stage, but noted that they plan to do so on their seventeenth launch, four launches from now.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

14 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 17 to 14 in the national rankings.

A bunch of new contracts for smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: Two news stories outlined today a bunch of new launch contracts for a number of smallsat rocket companies, with Rocket Lab getting the biggest share.

In the first award, the six companies were Rocket Lab, Aevum, Astra, X-Bow, Space Vector and VOX Space, of which only Rocket Lab is presently operational. The deal calls for the launch within the next 24 months of two cubesats from each company The money was authorized under the March Wuhan flu stimulus bill, and is apparently meant as reimbursement for each company’s losses because of the lock downs. No contract amount however was provided,

The second award to Rocket Lab came from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and is likely a reward for the company’s successful launch of three NRO satellites on June 12th. It also might involve two almost simultaneous launches on two different launchpads.

In a demonstration of its responsive launch capabilities, Rocket Lab said in a statement announcing the contract that the two launches will take place “within weeks” of each other. However, in an interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said he hopes the time between the two launches is much less than that. “We’re looking forward to having two vehicles sitting on two pads simultaneously, and we’ll see how close together we can actually get them to launch,” he said. “We’re planning internally to see how close we can get those two together.

The company is also hoping in the fall to attempt their first recovery of a first stage.

Next Rocket Lab launch scheduled only three weeks after last launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday announced that its next launch is now scheduled for July 3, less than three weeks after its previous launch, the fastest turnaround the company has attempted so far.

The July launch will place seven cubesats into orbit. The fast turnaround this time is part of the company’s attempt to complete one launch per month through the rest of the year, a pace they have been promising now since 2019 but have been as yet unable to achieve.

Successful Rocket Lab launch

Electron eleven seconds after liftoff

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today (June 13 in New Zealand) successfully launched five cubesats into orbit using its Electron rocket. The image to the right was taken eleven seconds after liftoff.

This was Rocket Lab’s second launch in 2020, delayed three months due to the Wuhan flu panic that shut down New Zealand. This does not put them in the leader board, but it does change the national rankings. The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

11 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 14 to 11 among the nations. Since SpaceX has its own Starlink launch later tonight, these numbers will likely change again before the night is over.

Chinese launch and Rocket Lab scrub

Electron on launchpad, June 11, 2020

Yesterday China used its Long March 2C rocket to launch an ocean observation satellite, while also testing both grid fins and a revamped fairing. The goal of the grid fins is to control the first stage’s return to Earth so that it won’t crash on top of any homes. The fairing change is to hopefully lead to their capture and reuse sometime in the future.

Late today, or actually early on June 11th, Rocket Lab tried to do its twelve commercial launch, but after three launch tries the high winds won out and they had to scrub. The image to the right shows the Electron rocket on the launchpad. If you look close, you can see the wind whipping the LOX evaporating off the rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

11 China
8 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 13 to 11 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab to resume launches in June

Capitalism in space: With the New Zealand government finally lifting some of the Wuhan panic restrictions it imposed on its population, Rocket Lab has announced that it will resume launches in June.

The company announced May 28 it has rescheduled an Electron launch for June 11 local time from its launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. That launch was previously scheduled for March 30 but postponed because of a lockdown imposed by the New Zealand government in response to the pandemic.

The launch, called “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, has the same set of payloads as what the company originally announced in March. That includes three unidentified payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office, the ANDESITE (Ad-hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-based Inquiry and other Team Endeavors) cubesat built by students at Boston University and whose launch was arranged by NASA, and M2 Pathfinder built by the University of New South Wales Canberra.

I suspect that, because the launch business is normally filled with delays that can extend to two months, Rocket Lab has weathered this situation better than many others.

Rocket Lab completes new launchpad at Wallops

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has signaled the completion of new launchpad at Wallops Island in the U.S. by the first roll out of an Electron rocket.

The actual launch of a Space Force test satellite is set for sometime in the summer.

Meanwhile, the company is ready to resume launches in New Zealand, but is stymied by the Wuhan panic.

Beck tells the Herald that his company’s Mission Control centre in Auckland is now fully operational with NZ’s move to level 3.

However, its “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula – originally planned for March 24 – is still on hold, with no estimated launch date. “We’re now ready to launch, but currently border restrictions are preventing specialists from entering the country, which is having a negative impact. Our team is on standby to launch as soon as those restrictions are eased,” Beck says.

I hope the company has the resources to weather these government-imposed delays.

Rocket Lab steals Arianespace customer

Capitalism in space: It turns out that a new launch contract won by Rocket Lab this week was actually a payload that was originally going to fly on Arianespace’s Vega rocket.

What Tuesday’s announcement did not include was the fact that the Japanese company [Synspective] shuffled this launch from a Vega rocket onto Electron. The Vega rocket, which had its first failure in 15 launches last July, has yet to return to flight. The spaceport it launches from in French Guiana remains closed due to the coronavirus.

Synspective had signed a major agreement with Arianespace last year to launch what is hoped will become a 25-satellite constellation. It appears that because of the Vega rocket failure, along with its higher price, Rocket Lab is going to get that business instead. That Rocket Lab can provide Synspective a dedicated launch, to the orbit of its choice, also encouraged the switch.

The background of this deal suggests that Rocket Lab’s future is bright, assuming New Zealand and the United States are ever allowed to go back to normal as free and open countries.

Rocket Lab tests 1st stage capture using helicopters

Capitalism in space: In early March, prior to the shutdown of New Zealand due to the Wuhan panic, Rocket Lab successfully completed a test whereby one helicopter dropped a dummy first stage over the ocean, the stage’s parachutes released to slow it down, and then a second helicopter captured it and gently transported and deposited it safely on land.

This test was part of the company’s effort to recovery its first stages so they can be reused. Because of their small size and the difficulty of developing the software, they have decided that a vertical landing is not economical. This test however shows that capturing the stage by parachute is possible. The real trick will be getting the first stage back through the atmosphere to an expected target spot and be able to release its parachutes. Proving that part of the effort will have to wait until the panic is over and New Zealand releases its citizens from house arrest.

I have embedded video of the test below the fold.
» Read more

Rocket Lab suspends launches due to Wuhan virus

Chicken Little wins again! Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it is postponing its next launch from New Zealand, scheduled for March 30, due to the Wuhan virus.

The decision to postpone the launch came after the government of New Zealand announced March 23 that it was moving to Level 4, or its highest response level to the pandemic, effective just before midnight local time March 25. Under Level 4, residents are instructed to remain at home and only essential businesses allowed to remain open.

What the government considers essential is very limited. “Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. If in doubt, the business premises should be closed,” Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a March 24 statement.

My sense is that Rocket Lab was forced to do this by the government. The result is the government has become more powerful, and private enterprise weaker, partly because of the former, and partly because its profit margin will be slashed due to the unnecessary delay.

Rocket Lab gets launch contract for lunar cubesat

Capitalism in space: NASA has awarded Rocket Lab the contract to launch the privately-built, for NASA, lunar orbiting cubesat CAPSTONE, designed to test technologies and the orbital mechanics required to build its Gateway lunar space station.

This quote says it all:

The firm-fixed-price launch contract is valued at $9.95 million. In September, NASA awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate the CubeSat.

Using two different private companies, one to build the satellite and the other to launch it, NASA will get a lunar orbiter for just over $23 million. That total equals the rounding error for almost all NASA-built projects.

The launch is set for early 2021.

Rocket Lab successfully launches U.S. reconnaissance satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully launched a U.S. reconnaissance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

They also had the first stage do a guided re-entry after stage separation, continuing their testing which they hope will eventually lead to the recovery and reuse of these stages.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

3 China
2 SpaceX
1 Arianespace (Europe)
1 Rocket Lab

The U.S. and China are now tied 3-3 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab begins construction on 2nd New Zealand launchpad

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has begun construction on a second launchpad at its New Zealand spaceport.

The new pad, known as Launch Complex 1 Pad B, is due for completion in late 2020. Rocket Lab says LC-1B will support increased launch frequency; enable back-to-back missions within days; and ensure that a pad is always ready to support rapid call-up launch. The existing pad at New Zealand’s Launch Complex 1 will be LC-1A.

This new pad will give Rocket Lab three launchpads total, two in New Zealand and one in Virginia, and when all are operational the company says it will be able to launch more than 130 times per year. That’s more launches than the entire world routinely launches.

Rocket Lab opens Wallops Island launchpad

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday officially cut the ribbon on its first U.S.-based launchpad at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Rocket Lab aims to launch up to 12 missions a year from LC-2 [Wallops], about one a month, once flights begin in 2020. The first mission will launch in spring 2020 to deliver the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program 27RM (STP-27RM) mission into orbit. That mission will launch a microsatellite called Monolith to see if small satellites can effectively carry “large aperture” space weather payloads, said Lt. Col. Meagan Thrush, program element monitor for space launch and control for the Air Force, in a news conference here today.

The company has a similar launch rate capability at its New Zealand launch site. Thus, if they have the customers, Rocket Lab now has the ability to launch upwards of 24 times next year.

Successful Russia and Rocket Lab launches

Two launches successfully took place in the early morning hours today. First Rocket Lab launched seven small satellites into orbit, including one that will release an artificial meteor shower. During that launch they also obtained telemetry of their first stage as it fell to Earth.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck just tweeted that the Electron’s first stage performed well during today’s re-entry experiment. “Electron made it through wall! Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!!” Beck tweeted.

Russia in turn launched a Progress cargo capsule to ISS.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
19 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)
6 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 27 to 25 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab announces new upper stage for taking satellites beyond Earth orbit

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday unveiled plans for a new upper stage to their Electron rocket that will allow them to send satellites to lunar orbit.

Rocket Lab will combine its Electron launch vehicle, Photon small spacecraft platform, and a dedicated bulk maneuver stage to accomplish extended-range missions and deliver small spacecraft to lunar flyby, Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO), L1/L2 points, or Lunar orbit. These capabilities can then be expanded to deliver even larger payloads throughout cis-lunar space, including as high as geostationary orbit (GEO).

The satellites involved here would all be very small cubesats, but since these small satellites are increasingly becoming the satellite of choice for unmanned missions Rocket Lab’s timing here I think is excellent. They are putting themselves in position to garner this new market share.

Rocket Lab & China launch rockets

Rocket Lab and China successfully completed launches today.

Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket to put a large cubesat into the highest orbit the company has yet achieved. This was the company’s nineth successful launch, and the fifth in 2019.

China in turn used its Long March 3B rocket to place a military communications satellite into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

20 China
17 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 21 to 20 in the national rankings.

FAA gives Rocket Lab an umbrella 5-year launch license

Capitalism in space: The FAA has awarded the smallsat launch company Rocket Lab a 5-year launch license, allowing it to streamline its regulatory process so that it can up its launch pace.

Rocket Lab has received a new five-year Launch Operator License from the Federal Aviation Administration, which grants it permission to do multiple launches of its Electron rocket from its LC-1 launch site in New Zealand without having to seek individual clearance for each one. While not the only limiting factor, this should help Rocket Lab increase the frequency of its launches from LC-1, servicing more customers more often for commercial small satellite customers.

While Rocket Lab has yet to achieve its goal of launches every two weeks, or even one per month, this license should at least remove one obstacle.

Rocket Lab sets next launch date

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday announced its next launch window, beginning on October 15, while adding that it has switched out the payload planned for that commercial launch.

The launch, scheduled for a two-week window starting October 15, will take a single spacecraft created by Astro to low Earth orbit. Corvus — the genus to which crows and ravens belong — is the name of the series of imaging satellites the company has already put up there; hence the name of the mission.

But this mission wasn’t scheduled to launch for some time yet. October’s launch, the fifth this year from Rocket Lab, was set to be another customer’s, but that customer seems to have needed a bit of extra time to prepare — and simply requested a later launch date.

Rocket Lab correctly touts this late and fast switch as an example of its ability to provide on-demand service to its customers. Making a switch like this is rare in rocketry.

At the same time, Rocket Lab had hoped to launch as many as sixteen times in 2019, with launches occurring monthly beginning in the spring. They have not come close to that pace, and right now it does not look like the company will top ten launches in 2019. and will likely do much less.

Whether this is indicative of problems at Rocket Lab, or with its various customers, is not clear, though I suspect the latter. The rocket has been reliable and operational now for more than a year.

Rocket Lab & China launch satellites

Both Rocket Lab and China today launched rockets to put satellites into orbit, though it is as yet still unclear whether the Chinese launch was successful.

Rocket Lab successfully placed four smallsats into orbit. It was the company’s eightth consecutive successful launch, continuing its perfect launch record.

More important, the company now has completed four launches in 2019. Their goal, announced early this year, was to achieve a monthly pace by summer, then ramp up to twice a month by the end of the year. So far they are not quite meeting that goal, averaging one launch every 1.5 months (March, May, June, August). Still, this record is quite impressive, considering they are a very new and very small private company that it now is beginning to match or exceed the launch pace of other nations (India) as well as well-established companies (ULA).

China’s Long March 3B launched a civilian communications satellite, but according to the story at the link, “the usual announcement of a successful separation has yet to published by Chinese State media.” For the purposes of the launch standings, I will assume at the moment that this was a successful launch, but will revise this post should we learn the satellite did not reach orbit. Update: It appears the launch was successful, but the satellite is having problems. This would mean the launch counts below.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
12 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 13 in the national rankings.

Rocket Lab to attempt recovery and reuse of Electron 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Faced with stiff competition from both other smallsat rocket companies as well as the big players like SpaceX, Rocket Lab has announced that they are going to try to recover the first stages of their Electron rocket for later reuse.

Their plan is to use the atmosphere and parachutes to slow the stage down as it returns to Earth, and then have a helicopter snag it and land it on a ship.

They had looked into the idea of vertically landing it, like SpaceX does with its Falcon 9, but found it would make their rocket to big and expensive.

This plan is not as radical as it sounds. The Air Force did something similar for almost a decade in the 1960s to recover film from its surveillance satellites.

Rocket Lab announces next launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced that it has scheduled the launch window in June for its next commercial launch.

The press release did not state exactly when in June. Either way, it is clear that the company is steadily ramping up its launch operations towards its goal of bi-monthly launches by the end of the year.

Rocket Lab completes second commercial launch in 2019

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has successfully placed three Air Force technology satellites in orbit.

This is their second commercial launch in 2019, and fifth successful launch overall. They have said that they plan a total of 16 launches this year. With eight months left in the year and 14 launches to go, they will have to up their pace to more than once per month pretty soon. As this is their announced intention, their launch rate should accelerate before the year is out.

One more interesting detail: With this launch they have now put 28 small satellites in space, on five launches. At this pace they are beginning to match, in a different way, the capabilities of larger rockets that can launch that many smallsats on a single rocket. Rocket Lab might be more expensive per satellite, but provides each launched satellite a more customized service, including more flexibility in orbital choice and a far more reliable schedule.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

However, the U.S. has now widened its lead over China to 10 to 6.

Rocket Lab now building smallsats also

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced this week that it is now offering satellite manufacture in addition to its launch services.

The “Photon” satellite platform was developed so that customers would not have to build their own satellite hardware. “Small satellite operators want to focus on providing data or services from space, but building satellite hardware is a significant barrier to achieving this,” said Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck, in a statement. “The time, resources and expertise required to build hardware can draw small satellite operators away from their core purpose, delaying their path to orbit and revenue. As the turn-key solution for complete small satellite missions, Rocket Lab brings space within easy reach. We enable our customers to focus on their payload and mission – we look after the rest.”

The satellites are designed for a range of Low Earth Orbit missions including technology demonstrations, risk reduction pathfinders, constellations, and hosted payloads, the company said in a statement.

This is not surprising. With their Electron rocket now operational, and about to begin monthly launches, they have the profits and margin to offer a complete launch package to smallsat customers.

Air Force confirms more Rocket Lab launches

Capitalism in space:: With the successful launch of a DARPA satellite by Rocket Lab last week, the Air Force yesterday confirmed the purchase of several more launches on the company’s Electron Rocket.

Three satellites will be launched to low Earth orbit later this month from Mahia, New Zealand, using Rocket Lab USA’s Electron rocket.

…The upcoming Rocket Lab launch is one of five planned in 2019. … Five small launches will send 21 experimental satellites to space by the end of December, said Lt. Col. Andrew Anderson, chief of the DoD Space Test Program Branch.

One of the five will be by Vox Space later this year. The company will use Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket that is air launched from a Boeing 747 mothership.

Anderson said there is possibly another vendor in the mix but only Rocket Lab and Vox Space so far can be identified.

I suspect that the unnamed vendor is Vector, but the Air Force is likely not going commit to this until Vector gets farther along in its test program.

Rocket Lab launch a success

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully placed a DARPA technology satellite in orbit using its smallsat Electron rocket.

Expect there to be an increase in the pace of launches from this company in the coming months.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race remain the same however:

3 SpaceX
3 China
3 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. however now leads in the national rankings, 6 to 3, over China and Europe. I list Rocket Lab as an American company because that’s what the company calls itself, even though it launches from New Zealand and right now builds the bulk of its rockets there.

Live feed of today’s Rocket Lab Electron launch

The countdown to Rocket Lab’s first launch in 2019, to place a DARPA technology demo satellite in orbit, is proceeding without problems, with the four hour launch window beginning at 6:30 pm (Eastern) today. The launch itself is presently set for 7:27 pm (Eastern).

The link will include the company’s live stream of the launch, when it begins about fifteen minutes before launch.

Should this launch succeed, Rocket Lab has said it would begin more regular launches, aiming for monthly and even bi-monthly launches before the end of the year.

Electron launch scrubbed, rescheduled for March 26

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s launch today of a DARPA satellite was scrubbed when a video transmitter did not work as expected.

“The team has identified a video transmitter 13dB down with low performance,” Rocket Lab tweeted. “It’s not an issue for flight, but we want to understand why, so we’re waiving off for the day.”

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, added that the rocket was “technically good to fly, as we have redundant links, but we don’t know why the performance dropped and that makes me uncomfortable.”

In an update a few hours later, Rocket Lab said crews aim to replace the suspect video transmitter in time for a second launch attempt Tuesday (U.S. time). The four-hour launch window Tuesday will open at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT).

Rocket Lab had hoped to move to monthly launches beginning in February. While they will probably do so before the year is out, it seems it might take most of the year to get to that pace.

Next Rocket Lab launch delayed because of late delivery of payload

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s next Electron launch, initial scheduled for late February, has been rescheduled for late march because its DARPA payload arrived late.

Rocket Lab confirmed the new schedule March 6. “Following a delay to payload arrival, the R3D2 spacecraft is now at LC-1 and integration is underway,” the company tweeted. In a later statement, the company said the launch would take place between March 16 and 30 (U.S. time), with four-hour windows each day from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

Being a very new rocket, with only three launches under its belt. it is important to learn that the delay was caused by the payload, not the rocket.

Rocket Lab gets DARPA launch contract

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today announced a new launch contract with DARPA, dedicating the company’s first launch in 2019 to that government military research agency.

DARPA’s Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2) mission is scheduled for launch in late February and intends to space-qualify a prototype reflect array antenna to improve radio communications in small spacecraft. The antenna, made of a tissue-thin Kapton membrane, packs tightly inside the small satellite for stowage during launch, before deploying to its full size of 2.25 meters in diameter once it reaches low Earth orbit. This high compaction ratio enables larger antennas in smaller satellites, enabling satellite owners to take advantage of volume-limited launch opportunities while still providing significant capability. The mission could help validate emerging concepts for a resilient sensor and data transport layer in low Earth orbit – a capability that does not exist today, but one which could revolutionize global communications by laying the groundwork for a space-based internet.

…The mission, the first of monthly Electron launches this year, will lift-off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula of New Zealand. To ensure precise insertion and responsible orbital deployment, the R3D2 payload will be deployed via the Electron Kick Stage to a circular orbit. Using this unique launch method, Electron’s second stage is left in a highly elliptical orbit where the stage is subject to significant atmospheric drag, causing it to de-orbit and burn up to nothing in a reduced time frame. The Kick Stage is then used to deploy the satellite payload to a precise orbit, following which the Kick Stage can perform a de-orbit burn to speed up its re-entry, leaving no orbital debris behind in space. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sections in the quote above indicate the schedule. Rocket Lab had suggested last year that once it successfully completed its November and December 2018 launches it would in 2019 launch monthly. They are still clearly pushing for that schedule, but it is also clear now that they will not launch in January and their February launch will be late in the month, suggesting the next launch will likely not be in March.

These delays at this point are not significant, though if they do not ramp up to that monthly schedule by the end of 2019 it will be.

This late announcement of a payload for the first 2019 launch also suggests that DARPA was willing to pay a premium to leapfrog over Rocket Lab’s already signed customers. My industry sources also suggest that the U.S. military has in the past few months become very very interested in these new smallsat rockets, and has been approaching them all to arrange future flights.

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