Rocket Lab is back in business.
The company’s Electron rocket launched a small satellite for the US military in the early morning (July 29), completing its first mission after a mid-May failure.
The two-stage Electron lifted off the pad at the Rocket Lab launch site in New Zealand, on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island, at 2 a.m. ET (06:00 GMT; 18:00 local New Zealand time) carrying a demonstration satellite called Monolith for US space. Power.
“We are off the pad and are heading back into space thanks to a successful launch from Launch Complex 1 Rocket Lab,” said Muriel Baker, Senior Communications Advisor to Rocket Lab, during a live webcast of the launch.
Connected: Rocket Lab and its electron accelerator (photo)
The Monolith, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, will be launched into target orbit 370 miles (600 kilometers) above Earth about an hour after liftoff, if all goes according to plan.
Once in orbit, Monolith “will investigate and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, which weighs a significant fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, altering its dynamic properties and testing its ability to maintain control of the spacecraft’s attitude,” reports Rocket Lab. representatives wrote in the mission press kit, which you can find here.
“Deployable sensor utilization analysis aims to enable smaller satellite buses to be used in future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing cost, complexity and development time,” they added. “The satellite will also provide a platform for testing future space defense capabilities.”
This morning, the launch was facilitated by the US Department of Defense Space Test Program and the Missile Launch Program based at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The state is renowned for its green chili and flavored cuisine, which explains the mission name Rocket Lab gave to the mission: “Little Chile is Here.”
Electron, 59 feet (18 meters) high, provides special trips to space for small satellites. The rocket now has 21 launches, including four this year.
However, Electron’s most recent launch to date, May 15, hasn’t gone well. The second stage Electron was disabled too early, resulting in the loss of the mission’s payload – two satellites from geospatial intelligence company BlackSky Global.
Investigation into the Rocket Lab anomaly identified the cause of the problem with the upper stage igniter.
“This caused signal distortion in the engine computer, which caused the Rutherford engine’s thrust vector control (TVC) to drift out of specification and caused the engine computer to command zero pump speed, causing the engine to stall,” the representatives wrote. companies. update 19 july.
“Since then, Rocket Lab has been able to reliably reproduce the problem in testing and has implemented redundancy in the ignition system to prevent any future recurrence, including modifications to igniter design and manufacturing,” they added.
Electron is currently a single-use launcher, but Rocket Lab wants to change that. The company plans to eventually lift the first stages of the falling Electrons using a helicopter, and then bring them back to earth for reuse in a relatively short time.
Rocket Lab is making progress towards this ultimate goal. For example, during a flight on May 15 and a flight in November 2020, the company lowered the first Electron stage for a soft landing under parachutes in the ocean. Engineers and technicians analyzed these returned boosters, which the company said had withstood their space missions in good shape.
However, “It’s A Little Chile Up Here” did not have a soft splashdown. The first stage of the Electron, after completion of the work, fell into the ocean and, in the old fashion, sank to the seabed.
Mike Wall is the author of “There“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the quest for alien life. Follow it on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.