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Rocket Lab’s next mission to launch 100th satellite and deploy next-generation Photon spacecraft in preparation for Moon mission

(9 February 2021 - Rocket Lab) Rocket Lab has today announced its next mission will deploy a range of satellites for commercial and government satellite operators, and place a next-generation Photon spacecraft in orbit to build spacecraft heritage ahead of Rocket Lab’s mission to the Moon for NASA in Q3 this year.

Scheduled to lift-off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula in mid-March, the ‘They Go Up So Fast’ mission will be Rocket Lab’s 19th Electron launch overall and second mission of 2021. The launch will bring the total number of satellites launched by Electron to 104.

Seven satellites feature on the mission manifest, including:

  • An Earth-observation satellite for BlackSky via launch services provider Spaceflight Inc.;
  • Two Internet-Of-Things (IoT) nanosatellites for companies Fleet Space and Myriota, procured by Tyvak;
  • A technology demonstration satellite for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space;
    a weather satellite pathfinder technology demonstration from Care Weather technologies;
  • A technology demonstrator for the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) through launch integration and program management services provider, TriSept;
  • and Rocket Lab’s in-house designed and built Photon Pathstone spacecraft which will operate on orbit as a risk reduction demonstration to build spacecraft heritage ahead of Rocket Lab’s mission to the Moon for NASA later this year.

The six customer payloads will be integrated onto Photon, which will initially act as a Kick Stage space tug to circularize and deploy the satellites to precise orbits. After deploying the first five satellites to a 550 km circular orbit, Photon’s Curie engine will reignite to lower its attitude and deploy the final satellite to a 450 km orbit. The Curie engine’s unique ability to perform multiple relights on orbit enables Rocket Lab to deploy satellites to different orbits on the same launch. This level of payload deployment flexibility is typically reserved for dedicated missions but is a standard capability on all Electron missions.

Following payload deployment, Photon Pathstone will remain in orbit to build flight heritage across the spacecraft’s subsystems ahead of the CAPSTONE mission to the Moon for NASA in Q3 this year, as well as Rocket Lab’s private mission to Venus in 2023. Photon Pathstone will demonstrate power management, thermal control, and attitude control subsystems, as well as newly-integrated technologies including deep-space radio capability, an upgraded RCS (reaction control system) for precision pointing in space, and sun sensors and star trackers. Pathstone is the second Photon spacecraft to be deployed to orbit, following the launch of Photon First Light in August 2020.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, says deploying customer satellites and then continuing with an independent Photon mission is a unique capability that enables multiple missions on the same launch.

“We’re delighted to be delivering tailored access to orbit for our customers once again, many of whom have previously launched on Electron. With Photon, and likewise with the Kick Stage, we’re able to give our customers an unmatched level of control over their orbital insertion, even when flying as a rideshare,” he said. “What’s truly unique to Electron is the ability to deploy a range of customer satellites, then continue with a separate Photon mission. It means making multiple, distinct missions capable within the same launch, reducing the time, cost, and complexity of innovating on orbit. It’s nothing short of a complete transformation in the way we go to space.”

Mission Manifest

  • Payload: Photon
    Organization: Rocket Lab
    The Photon onboard this mission is the latest configuration of Rocket Lab’s in-house satellite platform built for operations in low Earth orbit, deep space, and on interplanetary missions. This mission follows the successful launch and deployment of Rocket Lab’s first Photon satellite fewer than six months ago on the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical mission in August 2020.
  • Payload: BlackSky Global Series
    Organization: BlackSky, procured by Spaceflight Inc.
    BlackSky will include a single Earth observation microsatellite. This is the seventh launch of a Gen-2 spacecraft to date. Spaceflight arranged the launch and is providing mission management and integration services for BlackSky.
  • Payload: Centauri 3
    Organization: Fleet Space, procured by Tyvak
    Centauri 3 is a newly-designed 6U NanoSat that will join Fleet Space’s planned constellation of 140 Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) satellites in low Earth orbit. Designed for use in the energy, utilities, and resource industries, the Centauri 3 will also test new hardware and space systems developed by Fleet Space that will support the 2023 Seven Sisters mission, a resource exploration mission by an Australian team of space, remote operations, and resource exploration companies that will launch nanosatellites and sensors to develop new resource exploration techniques for Earth, the Moon, and Mars, in support of NASA’s Artemis Program.
  • Payload: Myriota 7
    Organization: Myriota, procured by Tyvak
    Myriota is the global leader in low-cost, secure satellite connectivity for the Internet of Things. Myriota 7 is the latest addition to its satellite constellation, and forms part of a crucial next step for the business, as it moves towards near-real time connectivity. It will support Myriota’s customers by further improving its existing service, which provides access to data from anywhere on Earth. Myriota's long battery life and direct-to-orbit connectivity supports products from technology partners servicing a wide range of industries including utilities, transport and logistics, supply chain, agriculture, mining and defence.
  • Payload: Veery Hatchling
    Organization: Care Weather Technologies
    The Veery Hatchling mission will test Care Weather's vertically-integrated satellite power, computing, and avionics systems in a 1U CubeSat. It paves the way for Care Weather's future constellation of scatterometric radar weather satellites capable of producing hourly maps of global wind speed and direction over the surface of the ocean. Veery Hatchling is the first step in Care Weather's mission to save lives and livelihoods by better forecasting Earth's extreme weather.
  • Payload: M2
    Organization: The University of New South Wales’s Canberra Space
    This spacecraft from the University of New South Wales Canberra Space, in collaboration with the Royal Australian Air Force, will bring together emerging technologies that deliver advanced capabilities in earth observation, maritime surveillance, quantum computing, advanced AI, and laser communications. M2 follows on from the successful M2 Pathfinder mission deployed in June 2020 on Rocket Lab’s 12th mission, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.
  • Payload: Gunsmoke-J
    Organization: U.S. Army’s SMDC, procured by TriSept
    TriSept procured the rideshare slot on Electron for the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC). Gunsmoke-J is an experimental 3U CubeSat that will test technologies that support development of new capabilities for the U.S Army. “TriSept is thrilled to be providing the rideshare slot, dispenser hardware, regulatory compliance in both the U.S. and New Zealand, and spacecraft integration for this important technology demonstration in space. We look forward to the integration of this small but game-changing payload aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron,” said TriSept CEO, Rob Spicer.