Featured image credit: Rocket Lab / Simon Moffatt / Sam Toms
Lift Off Time
|March 22, 2021 – 22:30 UTC|
March 23, 2021 – 11:30 NZDT
|They Go Up So Fast, a rideshare mission|
|– Rocket Lab|
– Spaceflight Inc. (BlackSky)
– Tyvak (Fleet Space, Myriota)
– Care Weather Technologies
– University of New South Wales’ Canberra Space
– TriSept (U.S. Army’s SMDC)
|Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand|
|Undisclosed, up to a maximum of around 230 kg (~510 lbs)|
Where did the satellites go?
|450 km and 550 km (~280 and ~340 miles) circular low Earth orbit (LEO) at 45° inclination|
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|
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
|No, this is not a capability of Electron|
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
|– 19th Electron launch|
– 2nd Rocket Lab launch of 2021
– 24th orbital launch attempt of 2021 (23rd successful orbital launch)
Where to watch
How did it go?
Rocket Lab successfully launched their They Go Up So Fast mission from Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand. This mission was a rideshare mission lifting a total of 7 satellites for various customers into 450 km and 550 km (~280 and ~340 miles) circular orbits at 45° inclination.
Shortly after payload separation, customers were already able to make first contact with their satellites on orbit. All satellites were delivered in perfect orbits by Rocket Lab’s Photon Pathstone, which transitioned from kick stage mode to spacecraft mode shortly after it deployed the final payload. Rocket Lab has now delivered a total of 104 satellites to low Earth orbit utilizing its Electron rocket.
They Go Up So Fast‘s Payloads
They Go Up So Fast was a rideshare mission lifting a total of 7 satellites into orbit. One of those was Rocket Lab’s next iteration of its Photon satellite (bus). Six of the seven satellites were deployed into a 550 km (~280 and ~340 miles) circular orbit at 45° and the final one into a 450 km circular orbits at 45° inclination.
|Pathstone||Rocket Lab||450 km at 45°||Undisclosed|
|BlackSky Global Series||BlackSky, procured by Spaceflight Inc.||450 km at 45°||~55 kg (~121 lbs)|
|Centauri 3||Fleet Space, procured by Tyvak||550 km at 45°||11.3 kg (~25 lbs)|
|Myriota 7||Myriota, procured by Tyvak||550 km at 45°||~5 kg (~11 lbs)|
|Veery Hatchling||Care Weather Technologies||550 km at 45°||<1 kg (< 2 lbs)|
|M2||The University of New South Wales’ Canberra Space||550 km at 45°||Undisclosed|
|Gunsmoke-J||U.S. Army’s SMDC, procured by TriSept||550 km at 45°||Undisclosed|
Pathstone is Rocket Lab’s latest configuration of its in-house built satellite bus Photon. Throughout its mission, Pathstone will demonstrate, test, and certify subsystems and components of the Photon spacecraft prior to Rocket Lab’s CAPSTONE mission (NASA’s first lunar CubeSat mission) later this year and its private mission to Venus in 2023.
Photon Pathstone will demonstrate and test:
- power management
- thermal control
- attitude control
- deep-space radio capability
- an upgraded reaction control system (RCS)
- sun sensors
- star trackers
This marked the second Photon launched to orbit and will further build flight heritage across Photon’s systems.
BlackSky Global Series
BlackSky Global-09 is a single Earth observation microsatellite weighing around 55 kg (~121 lbs). Built by LeoStella near Seattle, Washington, it will be the company’s 7th Gen-2 satellite adding to their constellation. Mission management, as well as integration services and launch arrangements for this satellite were provided by Spaceflight Inc.
With various instruments and sensors on their satellites, the company aims to provide their customers with near real time information and insights on events like natural disasters. Furthermore, BlackSky offers comprehensive global monitoring, satellite imagery and tracking services.
Centauri 3 is a 6U small sat developed and built by Fleet Space. It weighs 11.3 kg (~25 lbs) and will mark the company’s 5th satellite to go to orbit. Launch management as well as integration services were provided by Tyvak.
Centauri 3 adds to the company’s planned constellation of 140 satellites that will provide global satellite connectivity for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Furthermore, it is a technology demonstrator and test bed for future satellites, as well as the upcoming SEVEN SISTERS Moon mission in 2023. SEVEN SISTERS will search the surface of the Moon for abundant, accessible water, in support of NASA’s Artemis Program.
Myriota 7 is another Internet of Things satellite in a 3U format. It was the company’s first Myriota CubeSat in orbit, with three more CubeSats to be launched on Arianespace’s Vega rocket this year. Weighing about 5 kg (~11 lbs), the satellite is equipped with two deployable fixed solar arrays and antennas to connect to thousands of things on the ground. Myriota 7 was built by Tyvak, which also handled integration and launch management.
“Hatchling” Veery, as the company Care Weather is calling the satellite, is the company’s first CubeSat. It weighs under a kilogram and is equipped with:
- a power system that can deliver up to 125 W
- multiple orientation sensors
- an attitude control system
- a micro ion thruster
- a communication system
The satellite is primarily designed to serve as a technology demonstrator for Care Weather’s upcoming weather monitoring satellites. Designed and built by Alex Laraway, Patrick Walton, and Harris Rothaermel in just 4 months, Hatchling is dedicated to Clay Reynolds, who passed away in 2020 and was a good friend of Alex Laraway.
Designed and built by the University of New South Wales Canberra Space in collaboration with the Royal Australian Air Force, the M2 satellite follows the successful operation of M2 Pathfinder, which flew on Rocket Lab’s 12th mission Don’t Stop Me Now. Once deployed, M2 will split into two 6U satellites to demonstrate on orbit formation flying technologies. The then two satellites will primarily be used for maritime surveillance, quantum computing, advanced AI, and laser communications.
Gunsmoke-J, an experimental 3U CubeSat, will be used by the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) as a technology demonstrator. Once in orbit, the U.S. Army will assess the benefits of dedicated imaging satellites for combat and battlefield surveillance. This mission aims to provide satellite imagery for troops on the ground in minutes rather than hours or days that it often takes to get images from national security satellites.
After launch and a nominal first and second stage burn, Photon Pathstone and the payloads were initially deployed into an elliptical orbit with a apogee at 550 km. Pathstone, with its relightable Curie engine, then performed a burn to circularize its orbit at 550 km altitude. After a nominal deployment of 6 of the 7 payloads, Rocket Lab’s Photon Pathstone decreased its orbital altitude to 450 km where it then deployed the final satellite. After deployment, Pathstone stayed in orbit to further build flight heritage across Photon’s systems.
|– 04:00:00||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 ignition|
|+ 00:02:25||Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage|
|+ 00:02:28||Stage 1 separation|
|+ 00:02:31||Stage 2 Rutherford ignition|
|+ 00:02:59||Fairing separation|
|+ 00:05:48||Battery hot-swap|
|+ 00:08:30||Electron reaches orbit|
|+ 00:08:39||Stage 2 separation from Photon|
|+ 00:49:15||1st ignition of the Curie engine|
|+ 00:50:56||1st Curie engine cut off|
|~+ 00:54:56||First five Payloads deployed|
|+ 01:00:41||2nd ignition of the Curie engine|
|+ 01:01:15||2nd Curie engine cut off|
|+ 01:48:19||3rd ignition of the Curie engine|
|+ 01:48:53||3rd Curie engine cut off|
|~+ 01:49:00||Final Payload deployed|
Rocket Lab’s 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 18 times, with 16 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 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.
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 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.
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 fuel that Rocket Lab has not yet disclosed. This high energy stage can send payloads “to the Moon and……….Venus!” – Peter Beck