Don't stop them now! Rocket Lab to pay homage to rock band Queen in next launch for NASA
"Don't Stop Me Now" is preparing for launch.
Space startup Rocket Lab has planned a ride-share mission for its 12th launch, colorfully named "Don't Stop Me Now" after a 1978 Queen song.
With the launch, the space technology company plans to send payloads into space for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and other customers, Rocket Lab announced in a statement.
The launch window for this mission will last about two weeks and will open March 27, with the Electron rocket ready to lift off from Rocket Lab's usual launchpad on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula.
"We created Electron to make getting to space easy for all, so it's gratifying to be meeting the needs of national security payloads and student research projects on the same mission," Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, said in the statement.
The NASA-supported payload aboard this mission is a satellite from Boston University called ANDESITE, which stands for Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors. This satellite is designed to measure the magnetosphere (the region of space dominated by Earth's magnetic field) and examine electric currents flowing as a part of "space weather" — activity initiated by the sun. NASA and other agencies have a keen interest in following space weather to better protect satellites and Earth infrastructure (such as power lines) from the sun's activity.
With this mission, the NRO will send three of its payloads. While Rocket Lab has not yet provided many details about the payloads, in the statement the company said that these payloads were procured under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle to put small satellites in space quickly and cost-effectively. Rocket Lab's first dedicated NRO launch took place Jan. 31, 2020.
Also on board will be the M2 Pathfinder satellite, a joint initiative of the University of New South Wales Canberra Space and the Australian government. This satellite is designed to test communications and other technologies "that will assist in informing the future space capabilities of Australia," Rocket Lab said.
Although Rocket Lab is currently launching these payloads from New Zealand, the company will soon also be launching from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island in Virginia. This new launchpad will provide even easier and cheaper access for American customers seeking to launch their satellites , Rocket Lab has said. The first mission to launch from this new pad is expected in 2020.
Rocket Lab postpones launch because of coronavirus pandemic
WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab announced March 24 that it was delaying the next launch of its Electron rocket from New Zealand as the government there institutes a near-total lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said in a statement that the launch, which had been scheduled for March 30 from its Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, would be postponed, and did not set a new date. “We are working with the government, health officials and our customers to determine when launch operations can resume,” the company said.
The decision to postpone the launch came after the government of New Zealand announced March 23 that it was moving to Level 4, or its highest response level to the pandemic, effective just before midnight local time March 25. Under Level 4, residents are instructed to remain at home and only essential businesses allowed to remain open.
What the government considers essential is very limited. “Only the businesses absolutely essential to ensure the necessities of life, like supermarkets and pharmacies, can stay open. If in doubt, the business premises should be closed,” Paul Stocks, deputy chief executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said in a March 24 statement.
The order does allow businesses deemed a “critical part of the supply chain for essential services” to remain open, but does not include the broader “critical infrastructure” exemptions found in similar orders in the United States that have allowed aerospace companies to remain open.
Days earlier, Rocket Lab said it was moving ahead with the launch. Company spokesperson Morgan Bailey said March 19 that the launch was still scheduled for March 30, with all the payloads and the launch team in place in New Zealand. The company confirmed those launch plans in a March 21 statement, adding that it was “working with our customers and local government authorities to minimize any potential disruption to our future missions planned in the months ahead.”
The government order would also halt production of Electron rockets at the company’s New Zealand factory. Rocket Lab said in its statement that it has vehicles completed that can be ready once launches resume. “We’re fortunate to have enough launch vehicles ready that we can effectively manage a pause in production and still have vehicles available for launch as soon as conditions allow,” it stated.
The delayed mission, ironically named “Don’t Stop Me Now” by the company, carried three payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office as well as student-built cubesats from Boston University and the University of New South Wales.
The Electron mission joins a small but growing list of launch attempts postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier March 24, the Argentine space agency CONAE announced the launch of its SAOCOM 1B satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9, scheduled for March 30 from Cape Canaveral, has been delayed. CONAE said that “restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic” raised questions about whether the agency had the resources to support the launch of the satellite as well as its on-orbit commissioning.
Launches from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, have also been placed on hold since March 16 because of French restrictions on non-essential activities. That has delayed the return to flight of the Vega rocket, which had been scheduled for March 23.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 launch remains scheduled for March 26 from Cape Canaveral. The U.S. Space Force’s 45th Space Wing said March 24 that it did not foresee other launches there being delayed because of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic on spaceport activities.