The Owl’s Night Continues | Electron

Check out our prelaunch preview of this mission here.

Lift Off Time
February 28, 2022 – 20:37 UTC 
March 01, 2022 – 09:37 NZDT
Mission Name
The Owl’s Night Continues, a single StriX-β satellite for Synspective’s constellation
Launch Provider
(What rocket company launched it?)
Rocket Lab
(Who paid for this?)
Synspective Inc.
Launch Location
Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
~100 kg (~220 Ib)
Where did the satellite go?
561 km Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at a 97° inclination
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, not on this mission
Where did the first stage land?
It crashed in the Pacific Ocean
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
– 1st Rocket Lab launch of 2022
– 1st launch from Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
– 24th Electron launch
– 21st orbital launch attempt of 2022
Where to re-watch
Official replay

How Did It Go?

Rocket Lab successfully launched its The Owl’s Night Continues mission which lifted off from Launch Complex-1B, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand. On the The Owl’s Night Continues mission, Electron carried a single StriX-β satellite for the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation. This mission marked the first launch for the company in 2022 and the second satellite delivered to space for Synspective Inc. Just like the previous A Data With Destiny mission, this one did not recover Electron’s booster.

The StriX-β satellite was supposed to be launched on the Soyuz-2 rocket, however, due to a change in its launch schedule, the company signed a contract for the launch of this and two more satellites with Rocket Lab.

The Owl’s Night Continues,  mission patch
The Owl’s Night Continues mission patch. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The StriX satellite series derives its name from a parliament of owls, “night” in the mission’s name, in turn, highlights that the SAR is able to monitor the Earth’s surface at any time of day or night.

The Owl’s Night Continues Mission

Synspective’s Synthetic Aperture Radar Constellation

Synspective Inc. is a Japanese Earth imaging company that is growing its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellation. The main objective of the company and its constellation is to deliver imagery that can detect millimeter-level changes to the Earth’s surface and does not depend on weather conditions or time of day. The SAR constellation will consist of 30 satellites.

This is not the first time that Rocket Lab will provide launch services for Synspective Inc. The company already launched the StriX-α satellite on The Owl’s Night Begins mission in December 2020. The satellite uses “StripMap” and “Sliding Spotlight” observation modes, providing the StriX-α with up to a 1 meter resolution. StripMap has a swath of 30 km and Sliding Spotlight has a swath of 10 km; these two systems use microwaves to map out the surface of the ground to within a few millimeters.

StriX-β Satellite

The StriX-β is the second demonstration Earth observation and radar satellite that uses X-band for precise twenty-four hour monitoring. This test satellite has a mass of ~100 kg and is equipped with two solar arrays and batteries for power while in orbit. The StriX satellites also have a 5 m SAR antenna that is stowed during launch. The SAR constellation uses microwaves to create an image of the target area during day, night, and even thunderstorms.

The SAR constellation, detects minute changes the Earth’s surface, independent of weather conditions and time of day
The SAR constellation detecting changes to the Earth’s surface, independent of weather conditions and time of day. (Credit: Synspective Inc.)

The StriX-β was launched into a one-day recurrent Sun-synchronous orbit and will capture particular spots on the Earth at the same time and under the same conditions every 24 hours. This will allow to track any changes and trends that happen at specific locations in the Earth’s surface. The company is planning to launch the first commercial prototype satellite, StriX-1, later this year and bring the number of the satellites to six by 2023.

The StriX satellite, The Owl’s Night Continues Mission
The StriX satellite. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Once the constellation is fully built out, it is going to be used to support urban development planning, construction and infrastructure monitoring, disaster response, and other general monitoring in cities.

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 minisatellites) 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 for the rocket. Electron’s payload lift capacity to LEO is 300 kg (~660 lbs).

Electron launch vehicle, Rocket Lab
Electrons at the production facility. (Credit: Rocket Lab via Twitter)

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 24 times (21 of them were fully successful) and delivered 110 satellites into orbit.

First And Second Stage

First StageSecond Stage
Engine9 Rutherford engines1 vacuum optimized Rutherford engine
Thrust Per Engine24 kN (5,600 Ibf)25.8 kN (5,800 Ibf)
Specific Impulse (ISP)311 s343 s

Electron’s first stage is composed of linerless common bulkhead tanks for propellant, an interstage, and is 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 Engine

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.

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

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 turbo-machinery just to drive those pumps. Rocket Lab decided to use battery technology instead, which allowed elimination of a lot of extra hardware without compromising the performance.

Different Third Stages

Kick Stage

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 six reaction control thrusters.

Electron, Kick Stage
Kick Stages tailored for three individual missions (Credit: Peter Beck via Twitter)

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.

Electron, Photon deep-space version
An illustration of the deep space version of Photon (Credit: Rocket Lab)

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. NASA already plans to use the deep-space version of Photon for its robotic Moon mission CAPSTONE. On this mission, the Photon spacecraft will deliver NASA’s 25 kg CubeSat into a unique lunar orbit, formally known as a near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). You can read more about CAPSTONE here.

Information about the StriX-α satellite by Trevor Sesnic

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