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NROL-151 (Birds of a Feather) | Electron

Lift Off Time

(Subject to change)
January 31, 2020 – 02:56:00 UTC |15:56 NZDT
Mission Name
Birds of a Feather (NROL-151), the first launch for the National Reconnaissance Office by Rocket Lab
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
Rocket Lab
(Who’s paying for this?)
US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)
Launch Location
Launch Complex 1A (LC-1A), Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
Where are the satellites going?
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, not yet, but very soon!
Where will the first stage land?
It will crash into the ocean off the coast of the Mahia Peninsula
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Are these fairings new?
This will be the:
11th launch of Electron ever
1st launch for Electron this year
– Rocket Lab has so far launched 47 satellites, in just 10 launches! (23 in 2019)
Where to watch
Rocket Lab’s Live Stream

Maybe even more fun you can watch with Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, starting at T minus 30! Come ask questions and join the conversation live!
Image by Geoff Barrett

What’s all this mean?

After launching 6 times in 2019, Rocket Lab opens 2020 with their first launch for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)! This is potential for a future of launches for the US secret observation satellite agency, NRO. Yet again launching from the beautiful, one-of-a-kind, Mahia Peninsula, Electron will soar high into the sky. However, similarly to the previous launch at the end of 2019 dubbed “Running Out Of Fingers“, Rocket Lab will attempt a guided reentry back into the atmosphere. Hopefully we can see some actual recovery soon!

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The official mission patch from Rocket Lab for their 11th launch, “Birds of Feather”

As with other launches for the NRO, there isn’t too much information that the public can find. However we do know that this mission could be the first among many other NRO launches performed by Rocket Lab. Rocket Lab obtained this opportunity under the NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract, which allows them to very quickly get their payload to orbit. The Electron rocket was the perfect choice because its size allows easy transport, and it can be manufactured quickly. In other words, when NRO wants a small satellite launched, Rocket Lab will be at the ready. This is reflected upon by their catch phrase “Frequent and reliable access to space for small satellites”.

Rocket Lab is eventually going to recover and re-use the first stage of the launch vehicle. Their 10th launch, dubbed “Running Out of Fingers“, demonstrated the capability to reenter the atmosphere without the firing of any of the engines. This is a critical step in recovery because all on board instruments must be intact and functional after atmospheric reentry so the recovery teams know that its telemetry and the onboard parachutes work. “Birds of a Feather“, the 11th launch for Rocket Lab, will again demonstrate and test this capability.

It is important to know that if the first stage fails to reenter, the mission is still successful because the satellite (hopefully) arrived in its intended orbit. If you are unfamiliar with the system, check out Everyday Astronaut’s Video on Rocket Lab’s recovery capabilities.

Keep an eye on the Prelaunch Preview page and Next Space Flight for T-0 updates and more!!

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