Another One Leaves The Crust | Electron

Lift Off Time
January 20, 2021 – 07:26 UTC | 20:26 NZT
Mission Name
Another One Leaves The Crust, a communication satellite for the OHB Group
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
Rocket Lab
Customer
(Who paid for this?)
OHB COSMOS International Launch Service GmbH for OHB Group
Rocket
Electron
Launch Location
Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
Undisclosed, up to a maximum of 200 kg (~440 lbs)
Where did the satellite go?
Polar orbit
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, but they will attempt to recover the first stages of future missions this year.
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed into the Pacific Ocean around 880 km downrange at around 440 km/h.
Did they recover the fairings?
No, this is not a capability of Electron
Were these fairings new?
Yes
How was the weather looking?
Weather (ground winds) caused a delay of the launch
This was the:
– 18th Electron launch
– 1st Rocket Lab launch of 2021
– 4th orbital launch of 2021
Where to watch
Official replay

Everyday Astronaut replay

How did it go?

Rocket Lab launched their Another One Leaves The Crust mission from Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand. This mission was a dedicated launch to lift a satellite for the European space technology company OHB Group into a polar orbit. The mission took off on January 20, 2021, at 07:26 UTC [20:26 NZT]. On this mission, Electron carried a communication satellite into Polar Orbit.

After an initial scrub on January 16, 2021, because of bad sensor data, they decided to try again on January 20, 2021. The sensor in question was an inclinometer that showed “strange data“, which was not used for flight, but they still wanted to understand the data they got.

On January 20, 2021, Rocket Lab successfully launched their Electron rocket with Another One Leaves The Crust at 07:26 UTC [20:26 NZT] after an initial delay and hold caused by high ground level winds. Those high winds were clearly visible during launch, as Electron drifted to the side for the first few seconds after lift off. After a nominal launch and orbit insertion, Rocket Lab’s live broadcast ended shortly after kick stage deployment due to customers request. The 2nd stage initially deployed the kick stage with the payload attached in an elliptical orbit, which then circularised the orbit around 40 minutes after lift off, followed by payload deployment, which brings the total number of satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 97.

Powerslide Electron Another One Leaves The Crust
Rocket Lab’s Electron doing a powerslide during Another One Leaves The Crust. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

OHB Group Satellite

The satellite enclosed in the fairing during this mission is a single communication microsatellite that will open up usage of specific frequencies to support future services from orbit. This could mean that the satellite will function as a relay in order to reduce the weight of communication systems on other smaller satellites. Unfortunately, there is little to no information on any satellite specifics like weight, dimensions, or what specific services the satellite will provide in the future. We can only speculate about those things, but what we know is that Electron can launch a maximum payload of up to 300 kg (~660 lbs) into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), or 200 kg (~440 lbs) into a 500 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

An important detail is that the customer is OHB COSMOS International Launch Service GmbH, the launch service division of OHB Group. They are responsible for the launch and all other launch related topics. However, OHB Group has built and will also operate the satellite once it is in orbit.

Another One Leaves The Crust might not look like the most interesting mission, but it’s remarkable in another way. It took only 6 months from signing the contract to launching the satellite for OHB Group, which underlines and supports Rocket Lab’s overall mission to provide fast launch solutions for customers.

Another One Leaves The Crust mission patch. Rocket Lab 's 18th mission.
Mission logo for “Another One Leaves The Crust”. Rocket Lab’s 18th mission. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Mission Profile

After launch and a nominal first and second stage burn, the kick stage and the payload was initially deployed into an elliptical orbit. The kick stage, with its relightable Curie engine, then performed a series of burns to further raise its highest point in orbit (apogee) in order to get the payload into its target orbit. After a nominal deployment of the customer’s payload, Rocket Lab’s kick stage started performing a de-orbit burn. This burn resulted in a lower perigee (lowest point in an orbit) and in greater atmospheric drag, so that the kick stage burned up during re-entry and will not contribute to existing space junk.

Another One Leaves The Crust Timeline

Pre-Launch

Hrs:Min:Sec
From Lift-Off
Events
– 04:00:00Road to the launch site is closed
– 04:00:00Electron is raised vertical, fueling begins
– 02:30:00Launch pad is cleared
– 02:00:00LOx load begins
– 02:00:00Safety zones are activated for designated marine space
– 00:30:00Safety zones are activated for designated airspace
– 00:18:00GO/NO GO poll
– 00:02:00Launch auto sequence begins

Launch

Hrs:Min:Sec
From Lift-Off
Events
– 00:00:02Rutherford ignition
00:00:00Lift-Off!
+ 00:02:30Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage
+ 00:02:33Stage 1 separation
+ 00:02:36Stage 2 Rutherford ignition
+ 00:02:57Fairing separation
+ 00:06:06Battery hot-swap
+ 00:08:45Electron reaches orbit
+ 00:08:51Second stage engine cut off
+ 00:08:55Stage 2 separation from Kick Stage
+ 01:06:07Curie engine ignition
+ 01:09:28Curie engine cuts off
~+ 1:10:00Payload deployment

What is Electron?

Rocket Lab’s Electron is a two-stage small-lift orbital launch vehicle with two optional third stages. Electron first flew on May 25, 2017. Since the maiden flight, Electron has flown for a total of 17 times, with 15 of those flights being fully successful. On the maiden flight, It’s a Test, the rocket was manually terminated after a failure in the ground communication system. During Rocket Lab’s 13th launch, Pics or it didn’t happen, the second stage suffered from an electrical issue resulting in the loss of the vehicle. Since Rocket Lab’s first flight, they have successfully delivered 96 satellites to orbit.

Electron rocket carbon fiber size factory tim dodd
Tim Dodd on his visit to Rocket Lab’s factory standing between two 1st stages.

The Rocket

Electron consists of two stages with an optional kick stage or Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus. Electron is 18 m (59 ft) tall, 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in diameter, and can loft up to 300 kg (~660 lbs) into LEO. It is the first rocket ever to be fully manufactured out of advanced and lightweight carbon composites.

1st Stage

Powered by nine Rutherford engines running on RP-1 and LOx, the first stage lifts off with a combined thrust of 224 kN (50,400 lbf) at an ISP (specific impulse) of 311 s. These Rutherford engines are 3D printed and get produced in only 24 hours.

Electron's engine[
The CEO of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, standing next to an Electron rocket holding a Rutherford engine. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

2nd Stage

Electron’s second stage is powered by one vacuum optimised Rutherford engine, again running on RP-1 and LOx. With a thrust of 25.8 kN (5,800 lbf) in vacuum and an ISP of 343 s, Electron’s second stage propels its payload into orbit. The difference between a first stage’s Rutherford engine and this vacuum optimised second stage Rutherford is mainly the nozzle extension that provides the second stage engine with better performance.

Kick stage and Photon

Rocket Lab offers its customers an optional kick stage or its Photon satellite bus. The kick stage and also the LEO version of Photon are powered by one Curie engine running in bi-propellant mode, meaning fuel and an oxidizer are mixed and ignited (Curie can also run in mono-propellant mode). They both provide customers, especially on rideshare missions, with a wider range of possible orbits due to the Curie engine being able to relight. Photon, compared to the standard kick stage, can also function as a satellite bus, providing avionics, communications, propulsion and everything else a satellite needs to stay and function in orbit. This means that customers can concentrate on only the scientific payload they want to get into space.

A Curie engine (right) next to the nozzle extension of a Hypercurie (left). (Credit: Peter Beck)

Photon also comes as a deep space version with a Hypercurie engine, more propellant compared to the LEO version and also different propellant. It runs on some sort of “green” hypergolic that Rocket Lab has not yet disclosed. This high energy stage can send payloads “to the Moon and……….Venus!” – Peter Beck

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