Rocket Lab Launches Three R&D Satellites to Orbit for U.S. Air Force

Electron lifts off with U.S. Air Force satellites. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Auckland, New Zealand, 05 May 2019 – A Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 06:00 UTC, Sunday 5 May 2019 (18:00 NZST). The STP-27RD mission launched three research and development satellites for the DoD Space Test Program that will demonstrate advanced space technologies, including a satellite to evaluate new ways of tracking space debris.

The mission is Rocket Lab’s second for 2019 and took the total number of satellites deployed to orbit by the company to 28. The DoD Space Test Program, under Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, procured the STP-27RD mission in partnership with Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative. This initiative leveraged Other Transaction (OT) authority to competitively rapidly award DoD launch service contracts with non-traditional, commercial small launch companies.

“It’s a testament to our team and mission partners that Electron has placed another three satellites in orbit, just weeks after our flawless mission for DARPA,” says Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We’re proud to have delivered 100% mission success for the launch procured by the Department of Defense’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, proving once again Rocket Lab’s ability to provide responsive and streamlined space access.”

Approximately 54 minutes after lift-off, the Electron launch vehicle’s Kick Stage successfully deployed the three payloads to their designated orbits. The Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat-1 (SPARC-1) mission, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), is a joint Swedish-United States experiment to explore technology developments in avionics miniaturization, software defined radio systems, and space situational awareness (SSA).  The Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment (Falcon ODE), sponsored by the United States Air Force Academy, will evaluate ground-based tracking of space objects.  Harbinger, a commercial small satellite built by York Space Systems and sponsored by the U.S Army, will demonstrate the ability of an experimental commercial system to meet DoD space capability requirements.

The STP-27RD mission carried Rocket Lab’s heaviest payload to date, with the three satellites weighing in at around 180 kg. The highly experienced Rocket Lab team have now delivered 28 satellites into orbit, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth observation, ship and airplane tracking and radio communications. Rocket Lab’s manifest is booked with monthly launches for the remainder of 2019 for a range of commercial and U.S. Government customers. Rocket Lab will scale to a launch every two weeks by the end of the year. The majority of launches in 2019 are scheduled to lift-off from Launch Complex 1, with the first mission from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia scheduled for late 2019.

For real-time updates and upcoming mission announcements, follow Rocket Lab on Twitter @RocketLab.