Pics Or It Didn’t Happen | Electron

What’s All This About?

Rocket Lab will launch the Pics Or It Didn’t Happen mission on their Electron small-lift orbital launcher. Electron will launch on July 4, at 21:19 UTC, from LC-1A in New Zealand. Rocket Lab will deploy 7 small satellites into a 500 km circular orbit for Canon Electronics, Planet, and Faraday.

The mission name pokes fun at the “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” meme that was started in the early 2000s, and was later spread.

Lift Off  Time
(Subject to change)
July 4, 2020 – 21:19 UTC
July 5, 2020 – 09:19 NZT
Mission Name and what it is
Pics Or It Didn’t Happen, a rideshare mission between Canon Electronic, Planet and Faraday.
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
Rocket Lab
Customers
(Who’s paying for this?)
  • Canon Electronics
  • Planet Labs
  • Faraday
Rocket
Electron
Launch Location
Launch Complex-1A, Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
  • CE-SAT-1B: 50 kg
  • SuperDov: 20 kg (5 x 4 kg)
  • Faraday-1: ~5 kg
  • Total: 75 kg
Where are the satellites going?
Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO), (500 km x 500 km)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, there will be no further recovery efforts until flight 17.
Where will the first stage land?
The booster will crash into the ocean downrange.
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
No, Electron does not have this capability.
This will be the:
  • 13th flight of Electron
  • 3rd flight for Rocket Lab in 2020
Rocket Lab stream

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming at T-30 minutes; come ask questions and join the conversation live!

Image by Geoff Barrett

What is Electron?

Rocket Lab’s Electron is a two-stage small-lift orbital launch vehicle with an optional third stage. Electron first flew on May 25, 2017.  Since the maiden flight, Electron has flown for a total of 12 times, with 11 of those flight being fully successful. On the maiden flight, It’s a Test, the rocket was manually terminated after a failure in the ground communication system. Since this failure, Rocket Lab has delivered over 50 satellites to orbit. They have also completed one block upgrade, with another slated to fly on the 17th launch of Electron.

The Rutherford Engine

The Rutherford engine is an RP-1 and LOX based 3-D printed rocket engine. There are several things in this engine which have never been done before. First of all, the Rutherford uses an innovative new cycle: the electric pump-fed cycle. Instead of using the exhaust of a pre-burner or a gas generator to spin turbines, the Rutherford uses an electric motor to power the propellant pumps. This makes the engines highly throttleable, allowing the engines to be very precisely controlled. Furthermore, this means that, as battery technology develops, the Rutherford will become not only more powerful but also more efficient.

Electron's engine[
The CEO of rocket lab, Peter Beck, holding a Rutherford engine. Standing next to the Electron’s first stage. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Another first for an orbital class rocket engine is the fact that the Rutherford engine is 3-D printed. This is done to reduce costs and decrease manufacturing time. As of June 2020, Rocket Lab has been producing an engine every other day or nearly 200 engines per year. The Rutherford engine produces 24 kN of thrust at sea level and has a specific impulse (ISP) of 311 seconds. In a vacuum, the engine produces 24 kN of thrust and has 333 seconds of ISP. The thrust to weight ratio of the Rutherford is 68.6.

The engine on the Electron
A diagram of the electric pump-fed cycle (Credit: Andrew Taylor)

Electron Rocket

The Electron consists of two stages with an optional kick stage. Electron is 17 meters tall, 1.2 meters in diameter, and can loft up to 225 kg into LEO. Electron is the first rocket to be fully built out of advanced and lightweight carbon composites.

The first stage of Electron is 12.1 meters tall, 1.2 meters wide, and has a total of 9 Rutherford engines. It also contains tiny cold gas thrusters which are used for the reentry of the Electron booster. The second stage is 2.4 meters tall, with the same diameter of 1.2 meters, and has one vacuum optimized Rutherford engine on it.

Electron first stage
Tim Dodd pushing the Electron’s first stage around at Rocket Lab’s manufacturing plant. (Credit: Everyday Astronaut)

Finally, Electron has an optional boost stage which is used to circularize the payload’s orbit. The boost stage uses a single Curie rocket engine, which runs on an unknown monoprop. Due to the Curie engine only producing 120 N of thrust, it is able to put satellites into a very accurate and precise orbit. When the boost stage is used, the Electron’s payload capacity drops from 225 to 150 kg.

Rocket Lab is also developing another boost stage, the Photon, which is able to put 40 kg into a lunar orbit. The Photon is not only a kick stage but is also a satellite bus. Learn more about the Photon here.

Electron Launch Pads

Rocket Lab currently has two operational launch complexes; their primary site being Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) at Mahia Peninsula, in New Zealand. At the time of writing, the location has a single pad – however, work on another pad, LC-1B is taking place. All Electron launches thus far have been performed out of their New Zealand site, which Rocket Lab is licensed to launch from every 72 hours. To meet this ambitious cadence, in December of 2019 the company announced that they were building another pad at LC-1: LC-1B. It is expected that the launchpad will be complete by the end of 2020.

Rocket Lab’s beautiful Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Finally, Rocket Lab’s second launch complex is at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. The company is going to conduct its first launch from the location later this year (2020).

First Stage Recovery

Although Rocket Lab is pursuing booster recovery, there will be no further testing until the 17th flight. On which, Rocket Lab will introduce a new block of the Electron. The upgrade will include the necessary recovery hardware to return the booster in one piece. For more information about Rocket Lab’s recovery efforts, watch our video on it:

Payloads on Pics Or It Didn’t Happen

CE-SAT-1B

The CE-SAT-1B satellite is an Earth-imaging satellite produced and operated by Canon Electronics. The satellite is a 50 cm x 50 cm x 70 cm rectangular prism, with a mass of around 50 kg. Its main camera has a resolution of around 1 meter, but the satellite also has an ultra-wide angle camera. This is also the first mass-production model of the satellite, but it is not clear how many satellites Canon Electronics wants in their constellation.

CE-SAT-1B (Credit: Canon)

SuperDove

Also being launch on Pics Or It Didn’t Happen are 5 SuperDove satellites. The satellites are part of Planet’s SkySat constellation. The SuperDove is an upgraded version of the Dove, which will increase the resolution offered by the constellation. Planet offers a 72 cm resolution, but after their satellites are upgraded the constellation will be under 50 cm.

The SuperDoves satellites have an upgraded camera, which is more color accurate, producing a better and sharper image, and more accurate surface reflection values. The new sats also feature additional bands, which will allow them to better monitor agriculture, leading to new machine learning applications.

another payload on Electron
The last generation Dove satellite (Credit: Next Big Future)

Faraday-1

The Faraday-1 is a platform which provides an environment for companies to conduct experiments in microgravity. The satellite provides stability for the 4.5 kg of payload inside.

Watch “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” with Everyday Astronaut!

Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, will be streaming the “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen” launch, starting at T-30 minutes. Come ask questions and join the conversation live! If you want the best way to know when a launch is happening, I recommend downloading the NextSpaceflight mobile app. Moreover, to stay up to date with the activities of the Rocket Lab maritime fleet, this twitter account tracks the Rocket Lab ships that don’t go to space.

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