Rocket Lab reschedules first Wallops launch to January

Having had to scrub the launch on December 18th and December 19th due of weather, Rocket Lab has now officially rescheduled its first Wallops launch to January.

The move of the planned launch window from December 2022 to early 2023 was driven by weather and the additional time that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Wallops and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required to complete essential regulatory documentation for launch. The delay in documentation left only two days in the originally scheduled 14-day launch window and both of those final remaining days were unsuitable for launch due to bad weather. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport within NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is now closed for launch activity for the remainder of the December due to holiday airspace restrictions, preventing further launch attempts in 2022.

Rocket Lab originally wanted to launch from Wallops two years ago, but has been repeatedly stymied by government red tape. At that time the company wanted to use the software of its own flight termination system, a system that it has successfully used in New Zealand more than two dozen times, including several times where launch failures actually required the system to destroy the rocket. NASA said no, and instead insisted on spending two years apparently creating its own software which also requires the added presence of NASA officials during launch.

Weather forces Rocket Lab to scrub first launch from Wallops

High altitude winds yesterday forced Rocket Lab to scrub its first Electron launch attempt from Wallops Island in Virginia yesterday.

The weather also forced the company to cancel a launch attempt today.

Teams are now evaluating the next possible launch window while coordinating with holiday travel airspace restrictions. The flight will lift off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-2 (LC-2) at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

This could mean that Rocket Lab will not be able to launch before the end of the year. The company very much wishes to do this, however, as it would give it ten launches in 2022, as well as a launch pace of one per month for most of the year.

This first launch from Wallops is also important, as it would give Rocket Lab three launchpads, including one in the U.S. for launching classified military payloads. It had hoped to launch from Wallops two years ago, but red tape at NASA delayed the launch.

Rocket Lab wins launch contract abandoned by Astra

NASA yesterday awarded Rocket Lab the contract to put its constellation of TROPICS satellites into orbit, on two different launches.

This contract replaces Astra as the launch provider, which has abandoned launches while it develops a new rocket.

Astra’s contract, valued at $7.95 million, was for three launches on its Rocket 3.3 vehicle – a rocket that Astra later announced would be discontinued, in favor of a larger and more powerful Rocket 4.

But Rocket 4 is still under development – and may not be ready to launch until 2024. NASA decided not to wait that long, and said in September that it would modify the TROPICS launch contract with Astra for “comparable scientific payloads” on the new rocket.

Moreover, the launches will occur at Wallops Island, strengthening Rocket Lab’s presence there. The company will attempt its first launch there in early December, a launch delayed for two years because of holdups created by NASA’s bureaucracy. With this new contract, NASA’s management will now have an incentive to speed use of Wallops by Rocket Lab, not slow it down.

CAPSTONE enters its planned lunar orbit

After experiencing serious tumbling shortly after launch, engineers have successfully put the technology test smallsat CAPSTONE into its planned lunar orbit (the same to be used by NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station), where it will spend at least six months gathering data.

In addition to studying this unique orbit, CAPSTONE’s mission also includes two technology demonstrations that could be used by future spacecraft. The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, or CAPS, is a navigational software developed by Advanced Space that would allow spacecraft operating near the Moon to determine their position in space without relying exclusively on tracking from Earth. CAPSTONE will demonstrate this technology by communicating directly with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been in orbit around the Moon since 2009. CAPSTONE will also demonstrate one-way ranging using a chip-scale atomic clock, which could allow spacecraft to determine their position in space without the need for a dedicated downlink to ground stations.

CAPSTONE is also demonstrating a third technology as well as the use of capitalism in space. The third technology is demonstrating the viability of using a tiny inexpensive smallsat for these kinds of interplanetary missions. The capitalism is that CAPSTONE was built by a private company, Terran Orbital, not NASA, and is being operated by another private company, Advanced Space, not NASA. It was also launched by a private company, Rocket Lab, not NASA. All three have proved or are proving that it is faster and cheaper for the government to merely act as the customer to private enterprise, rather than being the builder/operator and boss.

Rocket Lab sets date for 1st launch from Wallops

On the same day it won a contract to build a control center for Globalstar’s satellite constellation, Rocket Lab also set December 7, 2022 as the target date for its first Electron launch from Wallops Island in Virginia.

The company had originally hoped to launch from Wallops two years ago, but delays caused by NASA’s bureaucracy in approving the flight termination software made that impossible.

With two operating launchpads, one in New Zealand and one in the U.S., Rocket Lab should now be able to ramp up its launch pace, assuming it has the customers. So far this year the company has done about one launch per month.

Rocket Lab successfully launches but fails to catch first stage

Rocket Lab today used its Electron rocket to successfully launch a Swedish atmospheric research satellite.

The attempt to catch the first stage with a helicopter as the stage came back to Earth on parachutes failed. Based on the live stream, the failure appears unrelated to the helicopter, which never even made an attempt to capture. Nor did the video from the copter ever show the stage in view. A later update explained that the helicopter had lost telemetry from the stage, and for safety reasons would not attempt a capture without that information.

The company will still recover the stage from the ocean and test its engines. An engine from a previous ocean recovery actually passed all subsequent engine tests, suggesting it could even be reused on a launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

51 SpaceX
47 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 72 to 47 in the national rankings, though it still trails the rest of the world combined 75 to 72.

Watching Rocket Lab’s launch and attempt to recover its first stage

In its scheduled launch today, Rocket Lab will attempt to recover the first stage of its Electron rocket, using a helicopter to snatch its parachute as it descends slowly over the ocean. This will the second attempt to do so, the first time failing after capture when the helicopter pilot decided to release the stage due to unexpected stresses and vibrations.

I have embedded the live stream below. The launch is presently scheduled for around 10:30 am (Pacific).
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Rocket Lab to attempt 1st stage recovery on November 4th launch

Rocket Lab announced yesterday that it will make its second attempt to catch the first stage of its Electron rocket using a helicopter during its next launch on November 4, 2022.

Using a modified Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to catch and secure the rocket by its parachute line, Rocket Lab will bring the captured stage back to its Auckland Production Complex to be processed and assessed by engineers and technicians for possible re-use.

This Electron recovery effort follows the catch of an Electron first stage during Rocket Lab’s first helicopter recovery attempt on the “There And Back Again” launch in May, and the recovery attempt for this mission will follow the same concept of operations as the previous launch.

In the May recovery attempt, the helicopter caught the stage, but then released it almost immediately because of unexpected stresses on the helicopter. If Rocket Lab is successful this time, it will be only the second private rocket company to recover a first stage capable of reuse, after SpaceX.

The launch itself will take place at 10:15 am (Pacific). When the live stream is available I will embed it on Behind the Black.

Rocket Lab successfully launches NOAA satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully used its Electron rocket to place a NOAA satellite into orbit, designed to gather data from ground-based sensors.

This was the company’s eighth successful launch in 2022, the most it has achieved in any single year. No attempt was made to recover the first stage on this launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

45 SpaceX
41 China
12 Russia
8 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 65 to 41 in the national rankings, and the entire globe combined 65 to 61. The 65 successful launches so far this year is now the second most successful American year in rocketry, exceeded only by the 70 launches in 1966. With almost three months left to go in the year, 2022 looks like it will top that record, by a lot.

SpaceX meanwhile has a launch scheduled for later today, after getting scrubbed yesterday at T-30 seconds because of detected minor helium leak.

Rocket Lab successfully launches commercial radar satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully used its Electron rocket to place a commercial radar Earth observation satellite into orbit.

This was the company’s 30th successful launch. As of this writing, the satellite itself has not yet deployed.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

41 SpaceX
37 China
11 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 57 to 37 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 57 to 56. The 57 successful American launches so for this year ties for third place with 1964 and 1967 for launches in a year. The record number of U.S. launches in a single year was 70, in 1966. That record should almost certainly be topped this year.

SpaceX will once again attempt to launch 54 Starlink satellites later tonight, having cancelled several times this week due to weather.

September 8, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of string Jay:

Rocket Lab gets contract with military to study point-to-point cargo transport

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab yesterday revealed that the U.S. military has given it a contract to study whether its rockets could eventually be used for point-to-point cargo transport.

This study contract is similar to the one the military gave SpaceX for its Starship/Superheavy rocket. Both are intended not to actual fly missions, but to look at the engineering of the rockets to see if it will be practical to use them for point-to-point cargo transport on Earth.

The deal suggests the military has been impressed with Rocket Lab’s efforts to make its smallsat Electron rocket resusable, as well as its development program for its newer and larger Neutron resusable rocket.

Rocket Lab completes first static fire test of previously flown rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has successfully completed for the first time a full duration static fire test using one of its Rutherford rocket engines that had been flown on a launch earlier this year, recovered, and refurbished.

The engine was previously successfully launched to space and returned to Earth during Rocket Lab’s recent recovery mission, ‘There And Back Again’, launched on May 2, 2022. The mission was the first time Rocket Lab attempted a mid-air capture of Electron’s first stage, using parachutes on the rocket to slow its descent from space before a helicopter plucked the rocket from the sky as it approached Earth’s surface. The Electron stage was ultimately released for a soft ocean splashdown, before it was collected by vessel and returned to Rocket Lab’s production complex.

The refurbished Rutherford engine passed all of the same rigorous acceptance tests Rocket Lab performs for every engine, including 200 seconds of engine fire and multiple restarts. Data from the test fire shows the engine produced full thrust of 21kNs within 1000 milliseconds of ignition and performed to the same standard of a newly-built Rutherford engine. This Rutherford engine will now continue as an engine life-leader for future Rutherford development.

I have embedded a video of the full test below. This achievement makes Rocket Lab only the third company to successfully refire a previously flown engine, after SpaceX and NASA’s space shuttle engines. It might also be the first time an engine recovered from the ocean has been successfully refurbished. SpaceX had tried to do the same with early Falcon 9 first stages, before they could land vertically, but all accounts suggested the salt water made the engines unusable.

Based on the the quote above, however, this engine will not be used on a future flight, but for testing only. The company still intends to catch the stages as they descend by parachute with a helicopter, which will then transport them safely to land. Further attempts to do so will take place in later launches this year.

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A detailed description of Rocket Lab’s private Venus mission

Planned insertion of Rocket Lab's probe into Venus's atmosphere
Click for full figure.

Capitalism in space: In partnership with scientists at MIT, the Planetary Science Institute, and others, Rocket Lab engineers this week published a detailed description of the company’s planned privately funded mission to Venus, presently targeting a launch in May 2023.

From the paper’s abstract:

The Rocket Lab mission to Venus is a small direct entry probe planned for baseline launch in May 2023 with accommodation for a single ~1 kg instrument. A backup launch window is available in January 2025. The probe mission will spend about 5 min in the Venus cloud layers at 48–60 km altitude above the surface and collect in situ measurements. We have chosen a low-mass, low-cost autofluorescing nephelometer to search for organic molecules in the cloud particles and constrain the particle composition.

The figure above is figure 6 from the paper. It shows the probe’s planned path through Venus’s atmosphere. If the mission launches in May ’23 the probe would enter the atmosphere in October ’23.

Rocket Lab launches second NRO surveillance smallsat in three weeks

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully used its Electron rocket to place its second National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) surveillance smallsat into orbit in just over three weeks.

For Rocket Lab, this was the sixth launch in 2022, which matches its previous annual high, achieved in both 2019 and 2020. It should easily top that record before the year is out.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

33 SpaceX
26 China
10 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 47 to 26 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 47 to 42.

Two more American launches are scheduled in the next day. If both are successful, the U.S. will have exceeded its entire launch total for 2021 (48) in only a little more than a half year, and completed the most successful launches since 1967.

The second half of the year should actually be as active as the first half, with three more American smallsat rocket companies (Firefly, Relativity, and ABL) pushing hard for their first successful launches before the year is out, thus joining the already operational smallsat rocket companies Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra.

NRO delays Rocket Lab launch

Capitalism in space: Because it wishes to install software updates to its payload, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has told Rocket Lab to stand down from a planned Electron rocket launch scheduled for July 22, 2022.

This launch had been purchased by NRO as part of a two-launch deal, designed to allow Rocket Lab to demonstrate its ability to quickly schedule and launch two different NRO missions only ten days apart. The first launch took place on July 13th. And it appears that Rocket Lab is prepared to do that second launch, whenever NRO gives it the go-ahead, suggesting the company has fulfilled its part of the bargain.

Rocket Lab & ESA complete launches

Very early today from New Zealand Rocket Lab successfully launched the first of two quickly scheduled launches for the National Reconnaissance Office, designed to demonstrate its ability to achieve fast scheduling and rapid turnaround. The second launch is targeting July 22, 2022, only ten days later.

Also today the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully completed the first launch of its new upgraded Vega-C rocket, putting its prime payload (a passive test satellite) plus six cubesats into orbit. Though ESA says it will eventually hand over operations to Arianespace, its commercial arm, the rocket itself is mostly built by the Italian company Avio. Also, the rocket’s solid rocket first stage will be used as an optional side booster on the Ariane-6 rocket ArianeGroup is building for ESA.

Though ESA launched Vega-C, as it will eventually be managed by Arianespace I include it in that company’s total, which is now three launches for 2022.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

29 SpaceX
22 China
9 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise. now leads China 42 to 22 in the national rankings, and the entire globe 42 to 38.

Rocket Lab to launch twice in 10 days for NRO

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced yesterday that its next two launches, scheduled for July 12th and July 22nd, will demonstrate the ability of the company to quickly launch reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The NROL-162 and NROL-199 missions will carry national security payloads designed, built, and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence as part of a broad range of cooperative satellite activities with Australia. The satellites will support the NRO to provide critical information to government agencies and decision makers monitoring international issues.

These twin missions will be a demonstration of responsive launch under NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract for launching small satellite through a streamlined, commercial approach, and are the third and fourth missions contracted to Rocket Lab by the NRO under the contract.

Several federal military agencies have been testing this capability with almost all the new rocket companies, from the large, such as SpaceX, to the small, such as Rocket Lab and Astra.

Rocket Lab’s Photon completes course corrections, deploys CAPSTONE to Moon

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage successfully completed its seventh engine burn, putting NASA’s cubesat test lunar orbital on a path toward the Moon.

Following its launch on June 28, CAPSTONE orbited Earth attached to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage, which maneuvered CAPSTONE into position for its journey to the Moon. Over the past six days, Photon’s engines fired seven times at key moments to raise the orbit’s highest point to around 810,000 miles from Earth before releasing the CAPSTONE CubeSat on its ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon. The spacecraft is now being flown by the teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital. [emphasis mine]

From here on out CAPSTONE will use its own tiny thrusters to do any course corrections as it heads for an arrival in lunar orbit on November 13, 2022.

The highlighted words in the quote above are significant in and of themselves. The spacecraft is not being operated by NASA. In fact, other than paying for it, NASA has little to do with CAPSTONE. It was designed and built by Terran Orbital. It was launched by Rocket Lab. And it is now being controlled by Advanced Space, a private commercial company focused on providing in-space operations for others.

China and Rocket Lab complete successful launches

Two launches this morning herald the upcoming busy launch schedule for the last few days of June.

First China launched from its Jiuquan interior spaceport an Earth observation satellite using its Long March 4C rocket. As is usual with China, the first stage crashed on land, though no details have been provided.

Next, Rocket Lab used its Electron rocket to send NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat lunar probe on its way to the Moon. More information here.

CAPSTONE is currently in low-Earth orbit, and it will take the spacecraft about four months to reach its targeted lunar orbit.

…CAPSTONE is attached to Rocket Lab’s Lunar Photon, an interplanetary third stage that will send CAPSTONE on its way to deep space. Shortly after launch, Lunar Photon separated from Electron’s second stage. Over the next six days, Photon’s engine will periodically ignite to accelerate it beyond low-Earth orbit, where Photon will release the CubeSat on a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon. CAPSTONE will then use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon. The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to the Moon.

Once at the Moon, the spacecraft will enter a polar orbit varying from 1000 to 43,500 miles from the surface, with its prime mission to test operations in that lunar orbit.

Not only did NASA hire a private company, Rocket Lab, to launch it, the agency also hired a private company, Terran Orbital, to build it.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

26 SpaceX
21 China
8 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 36 to 21 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 36 to 34.

For the rest of June, the American companies SpaceX, Virgin Orbit, and ULA all have planned launches, as well as India. If all succeed, that would put the total launches in the first half of ’22 at 74, a pace that would almost reach 150 launches by the end of the year, smashing the annual record set last year. The U.S.’s pace in turn is likely to exceed the number of launches it completed in all of ’22 in July, with the possibility it could complete 75-80 launches by the end of the year, exceeding the U.S. annual record of 70 set in 1966.

CAPSTONE Moon satellite shipped to New Zealand by Terran Orbital

Capitalism in space: Terran Orbital has completed construction of the CAPSTONE Moon smallsat and has now had it shipped to New Zealand for its launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket no earlier than May 27th.

Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, a Terran Orbital Corporation, built the spacecraft for the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, otherwise known as CAPSTONE. The 12U CubeSat includes a radio tower on top that extends its size from a traditional 12U form factor.

CAPSTONE will not go directly to the Moon but instead, follow a “ballistic lunar transfer” that will take it out as far as 1.5 million kilometers before returning into lunar orbit. That transfer, which will take about four months to complete, is designed to save propellant, making the mission feasible for such a small spacecraft. The CAPSTONE payload and its software are owned and operated by Advanced Space for NASA.

CAPSTONE will use Rocket Lab’s Proton upper stage to get it to the Moon. It will then test maneuvering as well as communicating in the lunar halo orbit that NASA wants to use with its Lunar Gateway space station. It will also be proving out the use of this kind of smallsat for future interplanetary missions.

Rocket Lab successfully catches first stage with helicopter

Electron first stage on parachute just before capture

Capitalism in space: In successfully placing 34 smallsat into orbit today using its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab also successfully caught the first stage with helicopter as it descending by parachute.

The screen capture to the right from the live feed shows that first stage on parachute just before the helicopter hook captures it. That helicopter is now returning to land with that stage, which it will then gently deposit for study and refurbishment. Though it is likely this first recovered first stage will not get reused, that possibility remains, and regardless this success points to the future reuse of all Electron first stages.

UPDATE: Because of “different load characteristics” than seen during previous tests, the helicopter pilot released the stage for safety reasons, while still over the ocean. The company was then able to recover it, but though they can now study it no reuse will be possible.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

17 SpaceX
13 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 25 to 13 in the national rankings, with the U.S. leading all other nations combined 25 to 22.

Watch Rocket Lab launch and attempt to capture first stage with helicopter

I have embedded below the live stream of Rocket Lab’s launch today from New Zealand, scheduled for a 3:41 pm (Pacific) liftoff. The rocket carries 34 satellites for deployment.

More exciting however will be the attempt to recover the first stage. On this launch the Electron rocket’s first stage will control its descent using both thrusters and parachutes so that a helicopter can make the first attempt to snatch it out of the air before it hits the ocean.

If successful, Rocket Lab will then hopefully be able to reuse the first stage on a later launch.

Watch today’s launches by SpaceX and Rocket Lab

UPDATE: The Rocket Lab launch has been pushed back to May 1st because of poor weather today. The live stream below is still valid but it won’t go active until about 20 minutes before launch.

Capitalism in space: Two American rocket launches are scheduled for today, first a launch of another 53 Starlink satellites on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral followed by the launch of 34 smallsats on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from New Zealand.

I have embedded the live stream of both below. The Rocket Lab launch will be especially exciting, because the company is going to attempt for the first time the recovery of the first stage for reuse by snatching it in the air with a helicopter as it slowly descends on parachutes.

The SpaceX launch is scheduled for 5:27 pm (Eastern), with the live stream going active about 20 minutes before launch. If successful it will be the shortest turnaround for a Falcon 9 first stage, only 21 days and shaving almost a week off the previous record.

About one hour later the Rocket Lab launch will occur, the live stream also going active about 20 minutes beforehand.

» Read more

Rocket Lab to attempt 1st stage recovery by helicopter on next launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab will attempt during its next launch later this month to become the second commercial rocket company, after SpaceX, to successfully recover a first stage for reuse.

The company will use a customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to rendezvous with the stage as it descends slowly using parachutes and capture it. The helicopter will then fly it back to land and safely deposit it on the ground.

This launch is now scheduled for April 19th, at the earliest.

Rocket Lab launches two BlackSky Earth observation satellites

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully launched two commercial BlackSky Earth observation satellites using its Electron rocket.

This was Rocket Lab’s the fourth mission for BlackSky, with each launch putting two satellites in orbit. The satellites provide high resolution imagery to commercial and government customers, imagery presently in high demand because of the Ukraine War.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

12 SpaceX
8 China
4 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 19 to 8 in the national rankings.

OneWeb and Arianespace scramble to find a rocket to launch satellites

Capitalism in space: With the cancellation of the last six Soyuz-2 launches for OneWeb and Arianespace due to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the two companies are struggling to find an alternative rocket to launch the remaining 216 satellites that would complete OneWeb’s satellite constellation.

OneWeb has already paid Arianespace for the launches, so the responsibility to get the satellites in orbit is at present Arianespace’s. The problem is that its flight manifest for both the Ariane-5 (being retired) and the new Ariane-6 rocket are presently full.

Going to another rocket provider is problematic, even if a deal could be negotiated. The flight manifest for ULA’s Atlas-5 and Vulcan rockets is also filled. Though SpaceX’s Falcon 9 could probably launch the satellites, that company’s Starlink satellite constellation is in direct competition with OneWeb, which makes it unlikely the two companies could make a deal.

There have been negotiations with India to use its rockets, but it is unclear at present whether this will work.

One other option is to buy a lot of launches from the smallsat rockets of Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbiter, and Astra. This will likely cost more because more launches will be required, and that would required a complex negotiation between all parties.

Rocket Lab successfully launches Japanese radar satellite

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully completed its first launch in 2022 as well as the first launch from a second launchpad in New Zealand, using its Electron rocket to place in orbit a Japanese commercial radar satellite.

At the moment of writing the upper stage has not yet deployed the satellite, though deployment should happen momentarily. UPDATE: Satellite deployed successfully.

The new launchpad gives Rocket Lab three launchpads, two in New Zealand (both operational) and one in Virginia (delayed due to the NASA bureaucracy but about to go operational).

Rocket Lab is now tied with five other rocket operations, 4 private and 2 government, all with a single launch in ’22. The leaders in the 2022 launch race remain unchanged:

8 SpaceX
4 China
2 Russia

The now U.S. leads China 12 to 4 in the national rankings. At this same point in 2021, the U.S. had only completed 8 launches, so the pace this year is significantly higher. If this pace is maintained, the U.S. will complete 72 launches, which will just break the country’s best previous year of 70 successful launches in 1966. This total would also more than double the average yearly launch total for U.S. since 1966.

Rocket Lab successfully launches two more BlackSky Earth observation satellites

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab today successfully launched from its launchpad in New Zealand two more satellite for the Earth observation company BlackSky, completing the launch only 21 days after their previous launch, tying the company’s fastest turnaround.

This was Rocket Lab’s fifth launch in 2021, which the company states will be its last this year. At the start of the year it had predicted it would complete this number, so the company has at least matched its expectations for 2021, despite governmental hold-ups in both New Zealand and Wallops Island that slowed the launch pace.

The leaders in the 2021 launch:

46 China
27 SpaceX
21 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

China’s lead over the U.S. in the national rankings is now 46 to 44. SpaceX has a scheduled launch later tonight, so the race between the two countries should continue to tighten.

This was also the 120th successful launch in 2021, the most in a single year since 1984, and making it the ninth most active year in the history of space exploration.

Rocket Lab to attempt quickest turnaround yet on next launch

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab announced today that its next launch of two new BlackSky Earth observation satellites is targeting December 7th, and will thus attempt quickest turnaround yet for the company between launches, 19 days.

It does not appear the company will attempt to recover the first stage of the Electron rocket on this launch. Previous announcements had said it will attempt that recovery on its first launches in ’22.

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