Rocket Lab prepares to launch 12th Electron, continues work on future plans

After a several week stand-down due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Rocket Lab is preparing to launch its 12th Electron mission to date—a rideshare mission with payloads from NASA, the NRO, and the University of New South Wales. The mission will launch from Rocket Lab’s Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The launch is currently scheduled for 11 June UTC, and the exact launch window is 16:43—18:32 local time, or 04:43—06:32 UTC.

The launch window extends until 24 June UTC, with daily launch opportunities within the same several hour-long windows.

This mission is named “Don’t Stop Me Now,” according to Rocket Lab, “in recognition of Rocket Lab board member and avid Queen fan Scott Smith, who recently passed away.”

Payload Overview

Once in orbit, Electron will deploy five payloads: ANDESITE, the M2 Pathfinder, and three satellites belonging to the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

ANDESITE (which stands for Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) was developed by Boston University.

The satellite itself will deploy eight “pico-satellites” designed to resolve current densities at varying spatial resolutions in the near-Earth magnetosphere using measurements from Anisotropic Resistance Magnetometers, and relay information back to the central satellite. It is flying as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or ELaNa program.

M2 Pathfinder is a collaboration between the University of New South Wales and the Australian Government. The mission will test communications architecture and other technologies, including the ability of an onboard software-based radio to operate and reconfigure while in orbit.

Timeline

On May 7, Rocket Lab successfully conducted a wet dress rehearsal ahead of launch. During this process, the rocket is filled with fuel, simulating a normal countdown right up until engine ignition.

The countdown will begin at T-6 hours when the road to the launch complex is closed. During the next few hours, Electron will be loaded with rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1), and liquid oxygen. At T-2 hours, marine zones around the launch complex will be closed, and the airspace surrounding the area will also be restricted at T-30 minutes.

At T-18 minutes, the Launch Director will conduct a go/no go poll of all launch operators in order to continue the countdown. Passing 2 minutes before launch, the team will hand off control of the countdown to Electron’s onboard computers.

At T-2 seconds, the nine Rutherford engines on Electron’s first stage will ignite and reach full thrust, a process that occurs almost instantly due to their electric-driven turbopumps.

Electron will liftoff and begin pitching downrange. After 2 minutes and 36 seconds of powered flight, the Rutherford engines on the first stage will shutdown. Shortly after, the first and second stages will separate, followed by ignition of the upper stage Rutherford engine. Fairing separation will occur 3 minutes and 12 seconds into flight.

At 6 minutes 31 seconds into flight, Electron’s second stage will perform its unique “hot swap” staging, where spent batteries used for the vacuum-optimized Rutherford’s turbopump are jettisoned.

Electron will reach its initial parking orbit, at T+8:52, and the second stage will shut off. 10 seconds later, the kick stage will separate.

At T+51:34, the Curie engine on the kick stage will ignite, followed by shutdown at 1 minute and 36 seconds later.

Finally, at around one hour after liftoff, all payloads will be deployed from the kick stage, ending the mission.

Updates on Recovery

During the previous Electron mission, the first stage experienced another successful reentry test. The rocket survived re-entry, or what Rocket Lab calls “the wall,” and successfully followed a nominal trajectory including a controlled roll for stability. Following this outcome, Rocket Lab began low altitude drop tests in mid-February in order to begin testing prototype parachutes, the last part of the system required for recovery of an Electron first stage. 

Several weeks later, the company successfully completed a mid-air recovery test.

For the time being, however, Rocket Lab is putting a pause on controlled reentry tests. The first stage for “Don’t Stop Me Now” is not equipped with any recovery hardware. According to CEO Peter Beck, the company is aiming for a full recovery on Electron’s 17th flight.

Upcoming Missions 

Rocket Lab opened their second launch pad, LC-2, in December 2019, and the Electron rocket assigned to the first mission from this launch site has arrived. The rocket was raised vertical on the pad, and multiple tests have been performed, including a “hot ignition test” of the first stage’s nine Rutherford engines. This mission is slated to launch sometime in quarter 3 of this year.

The payload of the next Electron mission from LC-1 is currently unknown, but Rocket Lab recently conducted a hot-fire test of the second stage for that mission. 

After that, also from LC-1, the company will fly a dedicated mission for a synthetic aperture radar satellite built by Capella Space scheduled for sometime this summer.

The company is aiming for 12 launches this year, doubling its record of 6 from 2019.

The post Rocket Lab prepares to launch 12th Electron, continues work on future plans appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.



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