They Go Up So Fast | Electron

Launch Window
(Subject to change)
March 22, 2021 – 22:20-23:20 UTC | target T-0 is 22:30 UTC
March 23, 2021 – 11:20-12:20 NZDT | target T-0 is 11:30 NZDT
Mission Name
They Go Up So Fast, a rideshare mission
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
Rocket Lab
(Who’s paying for this?)
– 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 Location
Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand
Payload mass
Undisclosed, up to a maximum of around 230 kg (~510 lbs)
Where are the satellites going?
450 km and 550 km circular low Earth orbit (LEO) at 45° inclination
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No, but they will attempt to recover the first stages of future missions this year
Where will the first stage land?
It will crash into the Pacific Ocean
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
No, this is not a capability of Electron
Are these fairings new?
How’s the weather looking?
This will be the:
– 19th Electron launch
– 2nd Rocket Lab launch of 2021
– 24th orbital launch attempt of 2021
Where to watch
Official livestream

What does all this mean?

Rocket Lab will launch their They Go Up So Fast mission from Launch Complex-1A, Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand. This mission is a rideshare mission to lift a total of 7 satellites for various customers into 450 km and 550 km circular orbits at 45° inclination.

They Go Up So Fast mission patch. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

They Go Up So Fast‘s Payloads

They Go Up So Fast is a rideshare mission lifting a total of 7 satellites into orbit. One of those is Rocket Lab’s next iteration of its Photon satellite (bus). Six of the seven satellites will be deployed into a 550 km circular orbit at 45° and the final one at a 450 km circular orbits at 45° inclination.

Satellite NameCustomerOrbitWeight
PathstoneRocket Lab450 km at 45°Undisclosed
BlackSky Global Series BlackSky, procured by Spaceflight Inc.450 km at 45°~55 kg (~121 lbs)
Centauri 3Fleet Space, procured by Tyvak550 km at 45°11.3 kg (~25 lbs)
Myriota 7Myriota, procured by Tyvak550 km at 45° ~5 kg (~11 lbs)
Veery HatchlingCare Weather Technologies550 km at 45° <1 kg (< 2 lbs)
M2The University of New South Wales’ Canberra Space550 km at 45° Undisclosed
Gunsmoke-JU.S. Army’s SMDC, procured by TriSept550 km at 45° Undisclosed

Photon Pathstone

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.

Rocket Lab, Photon, Pathstone, They Go Up So Fast
Rocket Lab’s Photon Pathstone prior to its launch and without integrated payloads. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

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 will mark 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 are 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.

Two BlackSky Earth observation satellites after final assembly. (Credit: LeoStella)

Centauri 3

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 are provided by Tyvak.

Centauri 3 will add to the company’s planned constellation of 140 satellites that will provide global satellite connectivity for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Furthermore, it will be 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.

Centauri 3, Fleet Space, They Go Up So Fast
A render of Fleet Space’s IoT satellite. (Credit: Fleet Space)

Myriota 7

Myriota 7 is another Internet of Things satellite in a 3U format. It will be the company’s first Myriota CubeSat in orbit, with three more CubeSats to be launched on Ariane Space’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 will also handle integration and launch management.

Myriota 7, IoT, Myriota, satellite, They Go Up So Fast
A render of Myriota’s satellite. (Credit: Myriota)

Veery Hatchling

“Hatchling” Veery, as the company Care Weather is calling the satellite, is the company’s first CubeSat. It weighs just 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
Hatchling Veery, Veery Hatchling, Care Weather, Satellite, They Go Up So Fast
Care Weather’s “Hatchling” 1U CubeSat. (Credit: Care Weather)

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.

Care Weather, Clay Reynolds
“Hatchling” is dedicated to Clay Reynolds, who passed away in 2020. (Credit: Care Weather)


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.

M2, satellite, UNSW, They Go Up So Fast
An artist render of the separated M2 satellite. (Credit: UNSW)


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.

Mission Profile

After launch and a nominal first and second stage burn, Photon Pathstone and the payloads will initially be deployed into an elliptical orbit. Pathstone, with its relightable Curie engine, will then perform 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 will change its orbit to a 450 km circular orbit in order to deploy the final satellite. After deployment, Pathstone will stay on orbit to further build flight heritage across Photon’s systems.



From Lift-Off
– 04:00:00Road to the launch site is closed
– 04:00:00Electron is raised vertical, fueling begins
– 02:30:00Launch pad is cleared
– 02:00:00LOx load begins
– 02:00:00Safety zones are activated for designated marine space
– 00:30:00Safety zones are activated for designated airspace
– 00:18:00GO/NO GO poll
– 00:02:00Launch auto sequence begins


From Lift-Off
– 00:00:02Rutherford ignition
+ 00:02:25Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage
+ 00:02:28Stage 1 separation
+ 00:02:31Stage 2 Rutherford ignition
+ 00:02:59Fairing separation
+ 00:05:48Battery hot-swap
+ 00:08:30Electron reaches orbit
+ 00:08:39Stage 2 separation from Photon
+ 00:49:151st ignition of the Curie engine
+ 00:50:561st Curie engine cut off
~+ 00:54:56First five Payloads deployed
+ 01:00:412nd ignition of the Curie engine
+ 01:01:152nd Curie engine cut off
+ 01:48:193rd ignition of the Curie engine
+ 01:48:533rd Curie engine cut off
~+ 01:49:00Final 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 rocket carbon fiber size factory tim dodd
Tim Dodd on his visit to Rocket Lab’s factory standing between two 1st stages.

The Rocket

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.

1st Stage

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

2nd Stage

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.

Curie vs Hyper Curie
A Curie engine (right) next to the nozzle extension of a Hypercurie (left). (Credit: Peter Beck)

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

  1. Thank you for providing such a great article covering of this mission. Very informative and enjoyable to read.

  2. A very informative and well-written article. I also enjoyed Rocket Lab’s use of Tim Dodd’s music during the coast phases of the launch coverage!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: