Featured image credit: Rocket Lab
|November 04, 2022 – 17:27 UTC|
November 05, 2022 – 06:27 NZDT
|Catch Me If You Can|
|OHB Sweden for the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA)|
|Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand|
|~50 kg (~110 Ib)|
Where is the satellite going?
|585 km Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at 98° inclination|
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
|It will be caught mid air by their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.|
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Are these fairings new?
This will be the:
|– 9th Rocket Lab launch of 2022|
– 5th launch from Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
– 32nd Electron launch
– 153rd orbital launch attempt of 2022
Where to watch
Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming at around T-30 minutes; come ask questions and join the conversation live!
What Does All This Mean?
Catch Me If You Can will be Rocket Lab’s 32nd launch overall and its 2nd recovery attempt of this year. Their Electron rocket will be launching a single satellite for OHB Sweden and the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA) into a 585 km Sun-synchronous orbit. OHB Sweden developed a satellite bus on which the SNSA’s scientific payload is integrated. It will investigate atmospheric waves in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Catch Me If You Can
Catch Me If You Can is a dedicated launch for OHB Sweden and the Swedish National Space Agency to carry a single satellite into a 585 km Sun-synchronous orbit. The Mesospheric Airglow/Aerosol Tomography and Spectroscopy (MATS) satellite is a micro satellite based on OHB Sweden’s InnoSat M satellite bus. Weighing just under 50 kg including the scientific payload, the InnoSat M satellite bus has a designed on-orbit lifetime of five years and is equipped with a fixed solar array providing 30-40 W of power.
MATS is a research satellite designed to observe atmospheric waves and their paterns in Earth’s upper atmosphere mainly between 75-110 km. The satellite is equipped with two main instruments, the Limb imager and the Nadir imager. With those imagers, multiple mirrors, and beam splitters, MATS is observing noctilucent clouds forming in the MLT (Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere), as well as atmospheric airglow from the Oxygen A-Band. By imaging these phenomena in two UV (270-300 nm) and four IR (760-780 nm) channels, SNSA is hoping to gather new research about the dynamic MLT region in Earth’s atmosphere to better understand the interaction between this region, and wind and weather below.
Recovery Of Electron’s First Stage
Catch Me If You Can is Rocket Lab’s second attempt of catching an Electron first stage mid-air with their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter. While “red stands for reusability” does no longer apply to Electron, reusable Electrons are now identifiable by the shiny silver first stage. This silver layer is part of Electron’s thermal protection system (TPS) and decreases the heat load on the booster.
Rocket Lab plans to successfully catch its first stage with its recovery helicopter at around T+18 minutes. Earlier this year during their There And Back Again mission, Rocket Lab tried catching their booster mid-air, but had to release it shortly after catching it, because the pilot experienced unexpected handling characteristics of the helicopter that didn’t match earlier tests. After releasing the booster, the main parachute deployed again and the booster splashed down in the ocean, where Rocket Lab later recovered it from.
|– 06:00:00||Road to the launch site is closed|
|– 04:00:00||Electron is raised vertical, fueling begins|
|– 02:30:00||Launch pad is cleared|
|– 02:00:00||LOx load begins|
|– 02:00:00||Safety zones are activated for designated marine space|
|– 00:30:00||Safety zones are activated for designated airspace|
|– 00:18:00||GO/NO GO poll|
|– 00:02:00||Launch auto sequence begins|
|– 00:00:02||Rutherford engine ignition|
|+ 00:02:29||Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage|
|+ 00:02:32||Stage 1 separation|
|+ 00:02:35||Stage 2 Rutherford engine ignition|
|+ 00:03:08||Fairing separation|
|+ 00:04:35||Stage 1 apogee|
|+ 00:06:48||Battery hot-swap|
|+ 00:07:20||Stage 1 drogue parachute deploys|
|+ 00:08:09||Stage 1 main parachute deploys|
|+ 00:09:11||Second Engine Cut-Off (SECO) on Electron’s second stage|
|+ 00:09:19||Stage 2 separation from Kick Stage|
|+ 00:18:44||Stage 1 captured|
|+ 00:51:27||Kick Stage Curie engine ignition|
|+ 00:52:57||Curie engine Cut-Off|
|~+ 01:00:00||Payload deployed|
What Is Electron?
Rocket Lab’s Electron is a small-lift launch vehicle designed and developed specifically to place small satellites (CubeSats, nano-, micro-, and mini-satellites) into LEO and Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO). Electron consists of two stages with optional third stages.
Electron is about 18.5 meters (60.7 feet) in height and only 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) in diameter. It is not only small in size, but also light-weighted. The vehicle structures are made of advanced carbon fiber composites, which yields an enhanced performance of the rocket. Electron’s payload lift capacity to LEO is 300 kg (~660 lbs).
The maiden flight It’s A Test was launched on May 25, 2017, from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex-1 (LC-1) in New Zealand. On this mission, a failure in the ground communication system occurred, which resulted in the loss of telemetry. Even though the company had to manually terminate the flight, there was no larger issue with the vehicle itself. Since then, Electron has flown a total of 31 times (28 of them were fully successful) and delivered 151 satellites into orbit.
First And Second Stage
|First Stage||Second Stage|
|Engine||9 Rutherford engines||1 vacuum optimized Rutherford engine|
|Thrust Per Engine||24 kN (5,600 lbf)||25.8 kN (5,800 lbf)|
|Specific Impulse (ISP)||311 s||343 s|
Electron’s first stage is composed of linerless common bulkhead tanks for propellant, and an interstage, and powered by nine sea-level Rutherford engines. The second stage also consists of tanks for propellant (~2,000 kg of propellant) and is powered by a single vacuum optimized Rutherford engine. The main difference between these two variations of the Rutherford engine is that the latter has an expanded nozzle that results in improved performance in near-vacuum conditions.
For the Love At First Insight mission, the company introduced an update to the second stage by stretching it by 0.5 m. Moreover, they flew an Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) for the first time.
Rutherford engines are the main propulsion source for Electron and were designed in-house, specifically for this vehicle. They are running on rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOx). There are at least two things about the Rutherford engine that make it stand out.
Firstly, all primary components of Rutherford engines are 3D printed. Main propellant valves, injector pumps, and engine chamber are all produced by electron beam melting (EBM), which is one of the variations of 3D printing. This manufacturing method is cost-effective and time-efficient, as it allows to fabricate a full engine in only 24 hours.
Rutherford is the first RP-1/LOx engine that uses electric motors and high-performance lithium polymer batteries to power its propellant pumps. These pumps are crucial components of the engine as they feed the propellants into the combustion chamber, where they ignite and produce thrust. However, the process of transporting liquid fuel and oxidizer into the chamber is not trivial. In a typical gas generator cycle engine, it requires additional fuel and complex turbomachinery just to drive those pumps. Rocket Lab decided to use battery technology instead, which allowed eliminating a lot of extra hardware without compromising the performance.
Different Third Stages
Electron has optional third stages, also known as the Kick Stage, Photon, and deep-space version of Photon. The Kick Stage is powered by a single Curie engine that can produce 120 N of thrust. Like Rutherford, it was designed in-house and is fabricated by 3D printing. Apart from the engine, the Kick Stage consists of carbon composite tanks for propellant storage and 6 reaction control thrusters.
The Kick Stage in its standard configuration serves as in-space propulsion to deploy Rocket Lab’s customers’ payloads to their designated orbits. It has re-light capability, which means that the engine can re-ignite several times to send multiple payloads into different individual orbits. A recent example includes Electron 19th mission, They Go Up So Fast, launched in in 2021. The Curie engine was ignited to circularize the orbit, before deploying a payload to 550 km. Curie then re-lighted to lower the altitude to 450 km, and the remaining payloads were successfully deployed.
Photon And Deep-space Photon
Rocket Lab offers an advanced configuration of the Kick Stage, its Photon satellite bus. Photon can accommodate various payloads and function as a separate operational spacecraft supporting long-term missions. Among the features that it can provide to satellites are power, avionics, propulsion, and communications.
But there is more to it. Photon also comes as a deep-space version that will carry interplanetary missions. It is powered by a HyperCurie engine, an evolution of the Curie engine. The HyperCurie engine is electric pump-fed, so it can use solar cells to charge up the batteries in between burns. It has an extended nozzle to be more efficient than the standard Curie, and runs on some “green hypergolic fuel” that Rocket Lab has not yet disclosed.