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Raumfahrt - Rocket Lab successfully launches NRO satellite

22.01.2020

Rocket Lab to launch small satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office

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Named “Birds of a Feather,” the mission is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand as early as Jan. 31.

WASHINGTON — Small satellite launch services provider Rocket Lab announced Jan. 20 that its Electron vehicle’s first mission of 2020 will be for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Named “Birds of a Feather” (NROL-151) the mission is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The launch window opens on Jan. 31.

Rocket Lab said in this mission it will attempt a guided re-entry of Electron’s first stage. But the stage will not be recovered after splashdown.

This is the NRO’s first launch awarded under a program the agency started in 2018 to use commercial providers to launch small satellites. The program is called Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR).

The NRO develops and launches the United States’ intelligence satellites. The RASR program was created to take advantage of emerging services offered by commercial small launch providers as the U.S. government seeks to deploy proliferated constellations in low Earth orbit.

Rocket Lab’s senior vice president Lars Hoffman said in a statement that the Electron vehicle can meet the U.S. government’s need for “frequent, rapidly acquired launch opportunities.” Access to the Electron rocket “puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements,” Hoffman said.

Rocket Lab has been launching missions to orbit since January 2018. The company said the Electron launch vehicle has to date delivered 47 satellites to orbit.

Quelle:SN

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Update: 23.01.2020

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NRO, the U.S. spy satellite agency, preps for first dedicated launch on foreign soil

Rocket Lab’s first mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, which owns the U.S. government’s fleet of intelligence-gathering satellites, is scheduled to launch from New Zealand as soon as Jan. 30 (U.S. time), officials announced Monday.

Designated NROL-151, the previously-unannounced mission will be the first dedicated launch for the NRO from a spaceport outside the United States.

With rare exceptions, information about the NRO’s payloads is typically classified. The spy satellite agency and Rocket Lab released no details about the payload set to fly into orbit on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket later this month.

Most of the NRO’s missions are large, requiring boosts from heavier rockets from United Launch Alliance or SpaceX. But the organization has expanded its use of small satellites in recent years, deploying CubeSats and arranging dedicated launches on smaller rockets, such as Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur launch vehicle family.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket provides a different launch service, offering a dedicated ride to orbit small satellites without requiring payload owners to hitch a ride on a larger rocket, which often requires operators to compromise on schedule or orbital parameters.

The Electron is designed to carry up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload to a sun-synchronous polar orbit around 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth. Rocket Lab — which is headquartered in California, and has a factory and a primary launch site in New Zealand — says its base price to purchase the entire capacity of an Electron rocket mission is around $5.7 million.

The NRO said the NROL-151 mission is the first launch it has procured through the agency’s new Rapid Acquisition of Small Launch, or RASR, contracting mechanism. The NRO said the small launch program “enables our exploration of new launch opportunities by providing a streamlined, commercial approach for launching smallsats.”

“Under this approach, RASR helps us pursue the use of both large and small satellites to create an integrated architecture that provides global coverage to answer a wide range of intelligence questions,” the NRO said.

The first opportunity to the launch the NROL-151 mission opens at 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 30 (0000 GMT; 1 p.m. New Zealand time on Jan. 31). A four-hour window is available daily through Feb. 12 (U.S. time), according to Rocket Lab, which has nicknamed the upcoming flight “Birds of a Feather.”

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Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket fires off its launch pad on Mahia Peninsula. Credit: Kieran Fanning/Rocket Lab

The NROL-151 mission will mark the 11th flight of a Rocket Lab Electron booster since its debut in May 2017. It will be Rocket Lab’s first flight of 2020, and the fourth dedicated Rocket Lab mission for the U.S. government.

“We are honored the NRO has selected Rocket Lab as the launch provider for this dedicated mission,” said Lars Hoffman, Rocket Lab’s senior vice president of global launch services. “The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements.

“As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure,” Hoffman said in a statement.

The NRO said it was looking forward to a new partnership with Rocket Lab and a continued collaboration with New Zealand on the NROL-151 mission. New Zealand is a partner in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Rocket Lab says it will attempt another guided re-entry of the Electron booster’s first stage after it shuts down around two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. While the Electron’s second stage and Curie kick stage place the NROL-151 payload into orbit, the first stage will use thrusters to flip around 180 degrees and re-enter the atmosphere.

Engineers will analyze data gathered by sensors on the first stage to determine how the rocket weathers the extreme heat and pressures of re-entering the atmosphere. Rocket Lab debuted an upgraded first stage on the company’s previous launch in December, including a guidance system and thrusters to control the pencil-shaped composite booster’s orientation during re-entry, plus a base heat shield to protect the rocket during descent.

Rocket Lab will add parachutes to future rockets. The company eventually aims to retrieve the boosters using a helicopter as they descend under a parachute, enabling the company to recover and reuse the stage while avoiding contamination from salt water.

Unlike SpaceX’s larger Falcon 9 rocket boosters, Rocket Lab’s Electron first stage does not have enough leftover propellant after its ascent burn to attempt a propulsive landing. That’s simply a matter of physics, Rocket Lab says, because a small rocket inherently has thinner performance margins than a large launcher.

Rocket Lab is the first of a new crop of commercial small satellite launch companies to enter operational service. Other major players in the smallsat launcher market include Virgin Orbit and Firefly Aerospace, both of which claim they are within months of attempting an orbital launch.

Rocket Lab’s launch site on Mahia Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Rocket Lab is constructing a second launch pad at the spaceport — seen here behind the Electron rocket’s Launch Complex-1 — to accommodate a faster flight cadence. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab built a privately-owned launch site for the Electron rocket on Mahia Peninsula, located on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The Launch Complex 1 facility at Mahia is undergoing an expansion, with construction underway on a second launch pad there.

Rocket Lab announced the completion of its first launch site in the United States — named Launch Complex 2 — last month at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia.

The first Electron launch from Virginia is scheduled this spring with a U.S. military satellite.

Rocket Lab says it built the new launch pad in Virginia primarily to accommodate U.S. government payloads.

Quelle: SN

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Update: 31.01.2020

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Rocket Lab successfully launches NRO satellite

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A Rocket Lab Electron launcher lifted off from the company’s privately-owned launch site in New Zealand at 9:56 p.m. EST Thursday (0256 GMT; 3:56 p.m. New Zealand time on Friday) with the NROL-151 payload for the U.S. government’s National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Rocket Lab

A light-class Electron launcher built and owned by Rocket Lab fired into orbit Thursday (U.S. time) from a privately-owned spaceport in New Zealand with a top secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency.

The 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 — located on Mahia Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island — at 9:56 p.m. EST Thursday (0256 GMT; 3:56 p.m. New Zealand time on Friday).

A live video stream webcast by Rocket Lab showed the all-black carbon composite launcher climbing into a clear afternoon sky over New Zealand, powered by nearly 50,000 pounds of the thrust from nine kerosene-fed Rutherford engines.

After a two-and-a-half-minute burn, the first stage shut down its engines and separated from the Electron’s second stage, which ignited a single Rutherford engine to propel Rocket Lab’s Curie kick stage and the National Reconnaissance Office payload into an elliptical transfer orbit.

The second stage then released the Curie kick stage, which fired a small thruster around 50 minutes into the mission to inject the NRO payload into the proper orbit for deployment.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, confirmed on Twitter that the Curie kick stage released the NRO payload into orbit, confirming a successful conclusion to the company’s first launch of 2020.

“Starting our 2020 launch manifest with a successful mission for the NRO is an immensely proud moment for our team,” Beck said in a statement. “It once again demonstrated our commitment to providing responsive, dedicated access to space for government small satellites.

“Thank you to the NRO for selecting Electron for this historic mission, and congratulations to the Rocket Lab team on another flawless launch that continues our heritage of 100% mission success for customers,” Beck said.

The NRO released no information about the purpose or physical characteristics of the payload it launched with Rocket Lab. The mission was designated NROL-151 in the NRO’s manifest of satellite launches.

With rare exceptions, information about the NRO’s payloads is typically classified.

The NROL-151 payload was encapsulated inside the payload fairing of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle. Credit: Rocket Lab

Most of the NRO’s missions are large, requiring boosts from heavier rockets from United Launch Alliance or SpaceX. But the organization has expanded its use of small satellites in recent years, deploying CubeSats and arranging dedicated launches on smaller rockets, such as Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur launch vehicle family.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket provides a different launch service, offering a dedicated ride to orbit small satellites without requiring payload owners to hitch a ride on a larger rocket, which often requires operators to compromise on schedule or orbital parameters.

The Electron is designed to carry up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload to a sun-synchronous polar orbit around 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth. Rocket Lab — which is headquartered in California, and has a factory and a primary launch site in New Zealand — says its base price to purchase the entire capacity of an Electron rocket mission is around $5.7 million.

The NRO said the NROL-151 mission is the first launch it has procured through the agency’s new Rapid Acquisition of Small Launch, or RASR, contracting mechanism. The NRO said the small launch program “enables our exploration of new launch opportunities by providing a streamlined, commercial approach for launching smallsats.”

“Under this approach, RASR helps us pursue the use of both large and small satellites to create an integrated architecture that provides global coverage to answer a wide range of intelligence questions,” the NRO said.

The NROL-151 mission marked the 11th flight of a Rocket Lab Electron booster since its debut in May 2017. It was Rocket Lab’s first flight of 2020, and the fourth dedicated Rocket Lab mission for the U.S. government, following previous flights for NASA, DARPA and the U.S. Air Force.

A Rocket Lab Electron launcher lifted off from the company’s privately-owned launch site in New Zealand at 9:56 p.m. EST Thursday (0256 GMT; 3:56 p.m. New Zealand time on Friday) with the NROL-151 payload for the U.S. government’s National Reconnaissance Office. Credit: Rocket Lab

The NRO said it was looking forward to a new partnership with Rocket Lab and a continued collaboration with New Zealand on the NROL-151 mission. New Zealand is a partner in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Rocket Lab nicknamed the NROL-151 mission “Birds of a Feather,” and the company’s patch for the launch showed an illustration of an eagle and a kiwi together on the shores near the Electron launch site.

Rocket Lab says it performed another guided re-entry of the Electron booster’s first stage on the NROL-151 mission after separation from the rocket’s second stage. While the Electron’s second stage and Curie kick stage place the NROL-151 payload into orbit, the first stage was programmed to use thrusters to flip around 180 degrees and re-enter the atmosphere.

Rocket Lab debuted an upgraded first stage on the company’s previous launch in December, including a guidance system and thrusters to control the pencil-shaped composite booster’s orientation during re-entry, plus a base heat shield to protect the rocket during descent.

Officials said an initial look at data from the NROL-151 mission indicates the first stage reached the Pacific Ocean intact, just as it did after the December launch.

“Once again, initial analysis shows the stage made it back to sea level intact following a guided descent, proving that Electron can withstand the immense heat and forces generated on re-entry,” Rocket Lab in a statement.

A video feed from a camera on the first stage showed the booster falling back into the atmosphere and apparently going into a spin. Rocket Lab has added on-board guidance and navigation hardware, including an S-band telemetry transmitter and flight computers capable of collecting and transmitting data during re-entry.

Rocket Lab’s patch for the NROL-151 mission, also known as “Birds of a Feather.” Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab will add parachutes to future rockets to slow the vehicles for recovery. The company eventually aims to retrieve the boosters using a helicopter as they descend under a parachute, enabling the company to recover and reuse the stage while avoiding contamination from salt water.

“What Rocket Lab really wants to do is open access to space,” said Alex Linossier, recovery systems lead engineer at the company. “A way that we can avoid having to build as many rockets and allow us to launch even more frequently is to recover the stage, recharge it, refuel it and send it up again.

“On Flight 10 (in December), we got confirmation that the stage made it to the ocean intact, and for Flight 11 what we really want is this visual confirmation of that,” Linossier said before the launch. “After Flight 11 … what we’re going to start doing is adding systems onto the rocket that actually allow us to recover the rocket.”

Unlike SpaceX’s larger Falcon 9 rocket boosters, Rocket Lab’s Electron first stage does not have enough leftover propellant after its ascent burn to attempt a propulsive landing. That’s simply a matter of physics, Rocket Lab says, because a small rocket inherently has thinner performance margins than a large launcher.

Rocket Lab says it plans launches on a monthly cadence this year after performing six successful missions in 2019.

The company plans to debut a new launch site in Virginia in the coming months, and crews are building a second launch pad at Rocket Lab’s primary spaceport in New Zealand to accommodate a faster pace of launch activity.

Quelle: SN

 

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