Rocket Lab Wins Contract for Back-to-Back NRO Launches

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

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab, the Long Beach headquartered global leader in small satellite launch, has signed a launch agreement with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) for two back-to-back dedicated small satellite missions aboard an Electron launch vehicle. 

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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.

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Schedule for Upcoming Launches

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

The week ahead features launches by Rocket Lab and SpaceX, Vega’s first rideshare mission, two Chinese launches, and a Japanese sounding rocket flight.

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Rocket Lab to Resume Electron Launches on June 11

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

Rocket Lab has announced that it will conduct its 12th Electron launch with five satellites aboard from New Zealand on June 11 between 04:43 – 06:32 UTC (12:43 – 02:32 a.m. EDT).

The launch, titled Don’t Stop Me Now, will be 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 launch was delayed from March.

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Working Toward an Autonomous Future Starts Now for NASA, Partners

Lunar Gateway concept. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 15 years, will there be robots building large structures, spacecraft fixing themselves and telescopes making decisions about what to study next? The Science and Technology Partnership Forum – an interagency collaboration with principal partners NASA, the U.S. Space Force and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office – is working to answer questions like these to turn the possibilities into reality.

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Rocket Lab’s Next Mission to Launch Satellites for NASA, NRO and the University of New South Wales

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

Rocket Lab’s next rideshare mission will enable university research into Earth’s magnetic field, support the testing of new smallsat communications architecture and demonstrate a streamlined, commercial approach for getting government small satellites into space.

Long Beach, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) – Rocket Lab, a space technology company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has announced today that its next mission will deploy payloads for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space.

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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.

Next Cygnus Spacecraft Named After First African American Astronaut

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (Northrop Grumman PR) — Northrop Grumman will launch the NG-13 mission on February 9, 2020. The company’s Antares rocket will launch the Cygnus spacecraft from Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia with the 5-minute launch window opening at 5:39 p.m. ET.

Northrop Grumman is proud to name the NG-13 Cygnus spacecraft after former astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. It is the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight. Major Lawrence was selected in honor of his prominent place in history as the first African-American astronaut.

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Rocket Lab to Launch NRO Mission on Jan. 31

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

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif., 20 January 2020 (Rocket Lab PR) – Rocket Lab, the global leader in small satellite launch, has announced today that it will launch a dedicated mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The launch window is scheduled to open on 31 January NZDT and the mission, called ‘Birds of a Feather,’ will lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1.

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AeroCube-14 Takes Nanotech Experiments to Space

The AeroCube-14 CubeSats in the lab prior to launch integration. Once deployed, they’ll carry a number of nanotechnology experiments in low-Earth orbit. (Credit: Aerospace Corporation)

AeroCube 14’s experiments include nanotechnology payloads that will test new and emerging materials, including structural materials and thermal straps

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) — The Aerospace Corporation’s AeroCube-14 CubeSats launched on Nov. 2 loaded with nanotechnology payloads to conduct modular experiments and other research.

AeroCube-14 consists of two identical 3-unit CubeSats that launched as part of the Northrop Grumman-12 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station. 

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NRO Awards Planet Contract as Part of Transition of Commercial Imagery Acquisition

CHANTILLY, Va.. October 15, 2019 (NRO PR) – The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) today announced the transition of the Planet commercial imagery subscription service from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to the NRO.

As part of the transition, the NRO awarded Planet an unclassified, multi-year subscription service contract for daily, large-area, 3-5 meter resolution commercial imagery collection.

Recognizing the importance of mission continuity, the scope of the new NRO contract is comparable to NGA’s previous contracts with Planet and includes access to new daily unclassified imagery over multiple areas of interest to military planners, warfighters, and the national security community.

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USAF Awards ULA Contract for Atlas V Launches

Atlas V launches Orbital ATK-designed satellites for the U.S. Air Force. (Credit: ULA)

LOS ANGELES (DOD PR) — United Launch Services, Centennial, Colorado, has been awarded a $98,549,235 firm-fixed-price contract for Atlas V Completion launch services. 

This contract provides launch service completion for three National Security Space Launch Atlas V missions (two Air Force and one National Reconnaissance Office) previously ordered under contract FA8811-13-C-0003. 

Work will be performed at Centennial, Colorado; Decatur, Alabama; and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and is expected to be completed by Nov. 30, 2020.  This award is the result of a sole source acquisition. 

Fiscal 2019 and 2020 procurement funds are being obligated at the time of award.  The Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity.

NRO Awards Fourth Commercial Imagery Study Contract

CHANTILLY, Va. (NRO PR) — The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) announced today the award of a commercial imagery study contract to HySpecIQ (www.hyspeciq.com). This award is the NRO’s first such award to a commercial hyperspectral imaging company and represents the latest milestone in the agency’s commercial imagery acquisition and integration strategy.

“HySpecIQ is developing interesting new hyperspectral imaging capabilities that have the potential to contribute to our current and future overhead architecture,”said Pete Muend, director of the NRO Commercial Systems Program Office.

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Lawrence Livermore Develops Innovative CubeSats

Engineers and scientists complete the installation of the laser heterodyne radiometer (LHR) into the MiniCarb cube satellite, or CubeSat. Clockwise from bottom left is Lance Simms from Lawrence Livermore and AJ DiGregorio, Guru Ramu, and Jenny Young from NASA. (Not pictured: Emily Wilson, Darrell Carter, and Vincent Riot.) (Credit: Randy Wong)

LIVERMORE, Calif. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory PR) — The population of human-made satellites orbiting Earth has skyrocketed over the past 60 years. Launches nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, and a significant contributor to this growth has been the development and implementation of small satellites that are easier and less expensive to build and more cost efficient to launch than conventional ones. Today, the hottest destination for these spacecraft is low-Earth orbit (LEO)—in the range of a few hundred kilometers above the planet’s surface.

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SpaceX Statement on U.S. Air Force Launch Competition

Gwynne Shotwell

The following statement can be attributed to Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX:

“SpaceX means to serve as the Air Force’s long-term provider for space launch, offering existing, certified and proven launch systems capable of carrying out the full spectrum of national security space launch missions and requirements.”

Overall, SpaceX’s mature, operationally proven Falcon launch system delivers significant flight heritage and is fully capable of reliably supporting Phase 2 National Security Space Launch missions.

Phase 2 presents an opportunity to utilize and expand this certified operational capability to support the full spectrum of national security space launch requirements, leveraging the years-long, close technical relationship between SpaceX and the USG Team. This collaboration has delivered mission success for critical national security payloads, including National Reconnaissance Office Launch 76 (NROL-76), Orbital Test Vehicle 5 (OTV-5), Global Positioning System III-2 (GPS III-2), and STP-2.

SpaceX’s Falcon launch system is the only system offered for Phase 2 NSSL that is flying today and has already achieved national security space certification—SpaceX is clearly the lowest-risk solution for the Government to provide assured access to space on time and on budget.