WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – Small satellite launch company Rocket Lab made its first flight from US soil on Tuesday (Jan 24), paving the way for possible monthly flights from the US East Coast.
A Rocket Lab Electron booster launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility here with three commercial radio frequency satellites for customer Hawkeye 360.
Liftoff occurred at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), about 45 minutes after sunset. The rocket lit up the twilight sky over Virginia’s Eastern Shore with a thunderous roar, entering orbit soaring above the stars of the Orion constellation.
“Electron lifts off from Launch Complex 2, leaving US soil and over the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and on its way to space!” said Muriel Baker, Rocket Lab’s communications manager, during the webcast of Tuesday’s launch.
The three satellites were deployed as planned to an altitude of about 340 miles (550 km) within just over an hour of launch. However, the news of this success was delayed by about 35 minutes, as the ground station receiving the communication was not working properly.
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Tuesday’s launch, called “Virginia Is for Launch Lovers” (a play on the state’s tourism motto “Virginia Is for Lovers”), was years in the making for Rocket Lab, which has so far only launched electrons from two of its pads. Mission launched. Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island.
The Virginia Launch Site is part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport for commercial launches from Wallops. Rocket Lab finished building its pad at the US site in 2020.
“We are incredibly excited about the potential we are bringing to Virginia by launching Responsive from US soil to our customers, and we are also proud of the opportunities it will create for the local community by creating high-skilled jobs and high-profit bringing .tech manufacturing to the Eastern Shore,” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, said in a statement ahead of the launch (opens in new tab), He said the new pad would offer additional flexibility for US commercial, military and government flights.
Rocket Lab had hoped to begin launches from Wallops in 2020, but delays with a NASA-developed autonomous flight termination system were needed for Electron launches, delaying years. The system is automatic safety software designed to help rockets self-terminate if they go off course during flight.
David Pierce, director of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, said the agency found several errors in the software that required correction and additional testing by NASA, the US Space Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. Those issues were resolved in mid-December 2022, with only bad weather preventing a launch attempt on December 18.
“It’s been nothing short of a difficult endeavor to get us to this point,” Pierce told reporters ahead of Rocket Lab’s first launch attempt, which I view as a turning point in launch range operations, not just at Wallops. , but all over America.” last month.
Rocket Lab’s first US launch was the first of three planned missions for its Virginia-based customer Hawkeye 360, which is building a constellation of small satellites for radio frequency monitoring. The company will fly a total of 15 Hawkeye 360 satellites through 2024 under the deal, with Tuesday’s launch marking the company’s fifth batch of satellites overall.
In a separate prelaunch statement, Hawkeye 360 CEO John Serafini said, “For our fifth group of next-generation satellites, we need optimal orbital flexibility, and Rocket Lab’s new Electron launch pad in Wallops, Virginia provides the right home capability.” does.” (opens in new tab), “Rocket Lab’s inaugural launch features our first mid-latitude satellite cluster, which will strengthen the diversity of our geospatial insights for our government and commercial customers around the world.”
Rocket Lab is currently planning to launch an Electron mission roughly a month from Wallops Pad. The company is building a larger reusable rocket called the Neutron that will also take off from the Virginia pad. The first flight of the Neutron rocket is not expected before 2024.
The Electron has always been an expensive vehicle, but Rocket Lab is working to make its first stage reusable. The company has recovered and analyzed Electron boosters on several orbital missions to date, on one occasion even breaking the first stage out of the sky with a helicopter. However, no recovery attempts were made on “Virginia Is for Launch Lovers”.