Rocket Lab’s Electron Booster Launches Secret Reconnaissance Payload

Electron rocket lifts off on Jan. 31, 2020. (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)

Rocket Lab successfully launched a payload on Friday from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from its launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The dedicated mission, named “Birds of a Feather,” was the first NRO mission ever launched outside of the United States. Rocket Lab is an American company based in California.

NRO awarded Rocket Lab the contract under its Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) program. RASR is focused on allowing the reconnaissance agency to explore the use of new launch vehicles on a streamlined, commercial basis.

New Zealand as seen from an Electron rocket. (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted that the first stage made it through the atmosphere and down to the ocean for the second time. The company will attempt to use a helicopter to catch a stage during descent on a future flight.

It was Rocket Lab’s first launch of 2020 and the 10th success in 11 launch attempts of Electron. The booster first flew in May 2017.