Rocket Lab Launches Satellites, Tests Next-Gen Reusable Booster

Electron booster blasts into space. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A Rocket Lab next-generation Electron rocket blasted off from New Zealand on Friday, placing seven small satellites into Earth orbit and conducting the first test of a new reusable first stage.

The Electron’s 10th launch, nicknamed “Running Out of Fingers,” included six PocketQube micro-satellites measuring a mere 5 cm built by Alba Orbital. A seventh satellite built by a Japanese company will release particles that will create an artificial meteor shower.

But, most attention was focused on the test of the upgraded first stage. The booster was not designed to be recovered on this flight, but to help prepare the way for future recovery attempts.

The stage was fitted with “guidance and navigation hardware, including S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the first stage’s atmospheric re-entry,” the company said. “The stage is also equipped with a reaction control system to orient the booster during its re-entry descent.”

“Electron made it through wall!” Rocket Lab Founder Peter Beck tweeted. “Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!! “

The company plans to eventually recover spent stages in mid-air using a helicopter. Rocket Lab is aiming to be the second company after SpaceX to recover an orbital rocket stage for reuse.

The six PocketQube micro-satellites included:

  • ATL-1: A payload from Advanced Technology of Laser (ATL) from Hungary designed to test a new thermal isolation material in space, conduct a thermal insulator material experiment, and DVB-T band spectrum monitoring.
  • Fossasat-1: FossaSat 1 is a picosatellite developed by Spanish non-profit organization Fossa Systems. The spacecraft, which fits in the palm of a hand, is a communications satellite that uses low power RF to provide IOT connectivity.
  • NOOR 1A & NOOR 1B: These satellites from Stara Space will demonstrate LEO-to-LEO intersatellite link technology communicating with ground stations on Earth; crucial technologies required to create a real-time global communications constellation in space.
  • SMOG-P: A novel spectrum monitoring payload built by students at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics in Hungary. Smog-P features a spectrum analyzer to measure man-made electromagnetic pollution from space.
  • TRSI Sat: ACME AtronOmatic is a US-Germany based software application development company that provides flight tracking services to the aviation community and to mobile applications such as MyRadar, a weather radar application for mobile devices.

The ALE-2 satellite aims to create an artificial meteor shower by sending particles into the atmosphere. It was built by Tokyo-based ALE Co.