Rocket Lab Launches 12th Electron Rocket

Electron lifts off from the Mahia Peninsula on its 12th flight on June 13, 2020. (Credit; Rocket Lab webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket carrying five small satellites from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on Saturday.

The booster’s kick stage with the spacecraft aboard successfully separated from the second stage. The kick stage is now deploying the satellites into their planned orbits.

On this flight, Electron carried:

  • Boston University’s Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors (ANDESITE) space weather satellite;
  • Australia’s M2 Pathfinder communications test satellite; and,
  • three spacecraft built by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO);

ANDESITE will study space weather by measuring the Earth’s magnetosphere with onboard sensors. The spacecraft will later release eight pico satellites carrying small magnetometer sensors to track electric currents flowing in and out of the atmosphere.

The variations in electrical currents, also known as space weather, can cause disruptions in radio communications and electrical systems.

ANDESITE was built by Boston University electrical and mechanical engineering students and professors. It was flown as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides rides to space for educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

The M2 Pathfinder satellite will test communications architecture and other technologies. The spacecraft will demonstrtion the ability of an on-board software-based radio to operate and reconfigure in orbit.

M2 Pathfinder is a collaboration of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space and the Australian Government.

Three NRO satellites were also launched. The mission was procured under the agency’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket contract program. Rocket Lab flew its first dedicated mission for NRO on Jan. 31.

The launch, titled Don’t Stop Me Now, was the first by the company since late January. Rocket Lab suspended launch operations due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions placed on activities by the New Zealand government. The flight was delayed from March.

Rocket Lab did not perform any recovery testing on the Electron booster’s first stage on this mission. The company plans to recover the stage on future flights using a helicopter.