Watch Rocket Lab attempt its first launch from US soil today with an electron booster
After years of launching rockets from New Zealand, commercial space company Rocket Lab is poised for its US launch debut.
California-based Rocket Lab launches its first mission from US soil today (December 18) from its new Launch Complex 2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The mission, which will use an electron rocket to launch three HawkEye 360 satellites into orbit, will lift off during a two-hour window that opens at 6:00 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), and you can watch it for free in the window above track live. Rocket Lab will begin its launch webcast approximately 40 minutes prior to launch.
“Obviously, this is a significant milestone for Rocket Lab,” CEO Peter Beck told reporters in a Dec. 14 prelaunch briefing. “It feels great to be at this point.” Rocket Lab originally targeted a December 13 launch, but postponed the launch for additional checks, weather, and to finalize flight paperwork.
Related: Rocket Lab’s first US launch could be visible along the East Coast on December 18th
Rocket Lab Launches Visibility!
Rocket Lab’s first US launch could be visible to millions along the east coast! Here’s where and when to look. If you see it, let us know with photos and comments email@example.com!
Sunday’s launch, titled “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” (a nod to the state’s tourism motto “Virginia Is For Lovers”), marks the beginning of a new age of flexibility for Rocket Lab as it aims to serve launch customers across the globe world to use . The company worked with NASA at Wallops, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which oversaw Wallops commercial launches, to develop the new pad.
So far, Rocket Lab has used its two pads at its Launch Complex 1 on the coast of New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula for mission flights. A US launch pad will allow the company to launch missions for customers that require a US launch, such as government or military customers. said Beck.
Rocket Lab opened its Launch Complex 2 in 2019 and originally planned to launch its first mission from there in 2020. However, that first flight was delayed by two years due to delays in NASA’s development of a new autonomous flight termination system, a safety system required for electron launches from the Wallops Flight Facility. Rocket Lab uses a version of NASA’s autonomous flight cancellation system, which the company calls Pegasus, for its electron flights.
David Pierce, NASA director of the Wallops Flight Facility, told reporters that bugs discovered in the NASA system’s software and subsequent testing by the space agency, the US Space Force and the Federal Aviation Authority were the reasons for the delay. NASA and the FAA completed their certification of the system ahead of Sunday’s launch attempt and signed final launch documents on Saturday (December 17).
“It has been nothing short of a Herculean effort to get us to what I consider to be a turning point in launch area operations, not just in Wallops but throughout the United States,” Pierce said.
Rocket Lab’s Virginia Is For Launch Lovers mission is the first of three flights for Virginia-based HawkEye 360, which is building a constellation of small satellites for radio frequency surveillance. Under a multi-launch agreement HawkEye 360 struck in April, Rocket Lab will put 15 of the small satellites into orbit by 2024.
“These missions will expand HawkEye 360’s constellation of radio frequency surveillance satellites and enable the company to provide more precise mapping of radio frequency emissions anywhere in the world,” Rocket Lab wrote in a mission statement (opens in new tab).
Ticking off some big firsts for Electron this week:✅ First mission from US soil✅ First mission for @hawkeye360✅ First mission with an autonomous flight cancellation system in Wallops, Virginia is for launch lovers flying NET on December 15th . Stay tuned for weather updates pic.twitter.com/P7Dlq0X01hDecember 13, 2022
Rocket Lab eventually intends to launch one electron mission per month from its Wallops pad. The company is also building a new, larger, reusable rocket called the Neutron, which will also take off from the US launch site. The first flight of this rocket is expected in 2024 at the earliest.
Beck said the Rocket Lab launch team has already learned from handling its first mission at Wallops (rocket components are shipped to site in a container) and that the basics of preparing a rocket at the new US pad will be carried over to the new Neutron program . Rocket Lab is also building a neutron rocket manufacturing facility in Virginia.
“I think, you know, you learned a lot from that,” Beck said. “The next few launches will be significantly more streamlined.”
But now, he added, Electron must master its first flight.
“The missile is ready and on the pad,” Beck said. “The team is ready and it’s time to fly.”
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