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‘Flawless’ launch

Rocket Lab yesterday completed a “flawless” mission to put a satellite into orbit from Mahia, bringing the total number it has sent into space to 40.

Yesterday’s mission, named As The Crow Flies, lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 at Onenui Station at 2.22pm and “continues the company’s track record of 100 percent mission success for customers”, Rocket Lab said in a statement.

“Approximately 71 minutes after lift-off, Electron’s Kick Stage deployed the payload to a circular orbit of more than 1000km — more than twice the altitude of any Electron mission to date.”

“The spacecraft on board was a Palisade technology demonstration satellite — a 16U CubeSat with on-board propulsion and next-generation communications systems developed by Astro Digital . . .”

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said on Twitter that it was a “flawless mission”.

Rocket Lab’s next mission is scheduled for lift-off from Launch Complex 1 from late November.

The latest launch came a week after the New Zealand Space Agency released information about previous satellite payloads approved for launch by Rocket Lab from its Mahia complex.

The information released includes the payload owner by country and organisation, the purpose of the satellite and its type. Payload information will be released quarterly from now on.

Dr Peter Crabtree, head of the NZ Space Agency at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said New Zealand had attracted interest from around the world. Since applications began in 2017 to August 31, this year, the agency recommended 34 payload permits for approval by the Minister for Economic Development, including 12 from governments, 13 from commercial businesses, eight from academic institutes and one from a non-profit organisation.

To date, most of the payload permits had been issued for organisations in the United States (25). Payloads from the governments of Australia, Mexico, France and Singapore were also approved.

Payload missions have primarily been for research and development, Earth observation and technology demonstration.

The NZ Space Agency anticipates that in time the diversity of payloads will include defence and security payloads with operational functions.

As well as their direct applications, such payloads often led to major civilian applications — for example, GPS was designed, built and funded by the US Air Force as a military navigation system and now supported the technology we use every day, Dr Crabtree said.

“We have a robust legal and regulatory system in place that allows us to maximise the opportunities of space and manage any risks.

“This means we are able to welcome applications from a wide range of customers, from space agencies to private companies to defence and security agencies of our strategic partners. There is a wealth of organisations developing cutting-edge technology that can make a major difference to the lives of millions of people.”

Rocket Lab head of communications Morgan Bailey told The Gisborne Herald the company had launched a diverse range of satellites that “enable new science and innovation to be undertaken on orbit, leading to crucial services and data that we rely on in our day-to-day lives”.

“Many of these technologies are funded and operated by the defence sector, such as GPS (Global Positioning System), which is operated by the US Air Force. An example of a Rocket Lab-launched payload from the defence sector is the Falcon ODE CubeSat from the US Air Force launched in May 2019. This satellite was designed to help evaluate new ways of tracking space junk on orbit — a crucial requirement for the safe and sustainable management of space as more satellites are launched in the coming years.

“Rocket Lab is committed to the safe and responsible use of space.”

Details of previously unannounced payloads made public by the Space Agency included a mini CubeSat from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology containing three space weather instruments; a plasma probe, magnetometers and GPS occultation experiment technology, as well as an electrical monitoring system and optical status beacon. Its primary mission was stated as educational, providing students with hands-on experience designing and building the satellite.

A payload from the Mexico Secretariat of National Defence (SEDENA) was also approved for launch. It was equipped with four “web-camera-like” sensors for remote imaging — which would only be made available to SEDENA and students involved in a training programme designed to enable them to conduct digital image processing and software improvement experiments as part of their study.

Information on approved payloads and the assessment process is available here.

AS THE CROW FLIES: Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket blasts off yesterday. Picture by Rocket Lab