Rocket Lab Prepares to Launch CubeSat Mission for NASA

Electron It’s Business Time lift-off (Credits: Kieran Fanning & Sam Toms)

Huntington Beach, California (Rocket Lab PR) – US small satellite launch company Rocket Lab is gearing up for the company’s third orbital launch of the year, the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 mission for NASA. The launch is a significant moment for the small satellite industry, as it’s the first time NASA CubeSats will enjoy a dedicated ride to orbit on a commercial launch vehicle, thanks to NASA’s forward-leaning Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) initiative.  VCLS is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program headquartered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A nine-day launch window for the ELaNa-19 mission will open between 13 – 21 December 2018, UTC. Within this window, lift-off is scheduled between 04:00 and 08:00 UTC from Rocket Lab’s private orbital launch site, Launch Complex 1, on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula.

The mission will see Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle loft multiple CubeSats to low Earth orbit for NASA. Electron will carry approximately 172 pounds (78 kg) of payload, which will be deployed to a 500km circular orbit at an 85-degree inclination by Rocket Lab’s kick stage.

“It is an honor and privilege to launch NASA payloads on Electron, and to be the first small satellite launcher to fly under a NASA Venture Class Launch Services contract,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “Reaching orbit twice already this year has made 2018 a banner year for Rocket Lab. Capping it off with our first launch for NASA is a tremendous way to celebrate the new era of improved access to orbit for small satellites.”

Until now, launch opportunities for small satellites have mostly been limited to rideshare-type arrangements, flying only when space is available on large launch vehicles. As NASA’s first VCLS mission to fly, the ELaNa-19 mission on Electron represents a new approach to small satellite launch. VCLS contracts constitute the smallest class of launch services used by NASA and have been created to foster commercial launch services dedicated to transporting smaller payloads to orbit. The VCLS contract is a direct response from NASA to the small satellite industry’s changing needs for rapid and repeatable access to orbit.

“The NASA Venture Class Launch Service contract was designed from the ground up to be an innovative way for NASA to work and encourage new launch companies to come to the market and enable a future class of rockets for the growing small satellite market.  Matching ELaNa-19 with the Electron rocket gives these advanced scientific and educational satellites first-class tickets to space while providing valuable insight for potential NASA missions in the future,” said Justin Treptow NASA ELaNa-19 Mission Manager.

Many of the 10 ELaNa-19 CubeSats manifested on the mission are receiving their access to space through a NASA initiative called the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). CSLI enables the launch of CubeSat projects designed, built and operated by students, teachers and faculty, as well as, NASA Centers and programs, and nonprofit organizations. The program recognizes that CubeSats are playing an increasingly significant role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research and educational investigations. These small satellites provide a low-cost platform for both research and technology applications, including planetary space exploration; Earth observation; Earth and space science; and developing precursor science instruments like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement capabilities.

While the mission itself is called ELaNa-19, Rocket Lab also names each Electron launch vehicle individually. Previous Rocket Lab designations ‘It’s a Test’, ‘Still Testing’ and ‘It’s Business Time’ doubled as both mission and vehicle names. For the ELaNa-19 mission, the Electron launch vehicle is named ‘This One’s For Pickering’ in honor of NZ-born scientist and former Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Sir William Pickering. For 22 years, Sir William headed JPL and led the team that developed the first US satellite, Explorer I, launched in 1958.

Live coverage of the ELaNa-19 launch will be available on Rocket Lab’s website at YouTube channel. For real-time updates on launch day, follow Rocket Lab on Twitter @RocketLab