Rocket Lab successfully launched a small satellite for the U.S. military on Thursday, July 29. The mission was the first since a failed effort in May 2021 when its Electron failed to reach orbit, resulting in the loss of two satellites.
Back on track, the launch provider’s workhorse Electron rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 6 p.m. local time, deploying the satellite a short while later.
The night launch offered some spectacular visuals from the booster-based camera, which you can enjoy in the video below. The sequence also shows the separation of the first and second stages, and the immediate ignition of the single Rutherford engine on the second stage (nine of these are used to power the first stage). Keep watching for the fleeting fairing separation and, a short while later, the jettison of the battery that powers elements of the engine (a new battery is automatically deployed immediately after).
Electron carried to low-Earth orbit a single Air Force Research Laboratory-sponsored demonstration satellite called Monolith in what was Rocket Lab’s second mission for the United States Space Force.
“Monolith will demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control,” Rocket Lab said. “Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines.”
Thursday’s mission marks a return to normal service for Rocket Lab after it lost an Electron rocket in a launch failure on May 15. While the first stage of the mission proceeded as expected, the engine cut out during the second stage and the rocket failed to reach orbit, leading to the loss of both it and the payload. Thursday’s mission, however, went precisely to plan, with Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck describing it as a “perfect launch.”
The mission was Rocket Lab’s fourth launch of the year and its 21st Electron mission overall.
Besides its work as a small-satellite launch provider, Rocket Lab is also working on building Neutron, a new, more powerful rocket geared toward “mega-constellation deployment, interplanetary missions, and human spaceflight.” It’s part of efforts to better compete with another commercial spaceflight company, SpaceX. Like its rival, Rocket Lab also wants to develop a reusable rocket system, though its proposed method for bringing the booster back to terra firma differs significantly to SpaceX’s.