Rocket Lab announces new launch date, payloads for “It’s Business Time” Electron flight

by Chris Gebhardt

Rocket Lab has announced a new, target 14-day launch window for the upcoming third flight of their Electron rocket named “It’s Business Time”.  The new launch window opens on 23 June and extends to 6 July 2018, with daily launch opportunities occurring between 12:30-16:30 NZST (0030-0430 UTC).  The two-month delay to Electron’s third flight has allowed Rocket Lab to add additional payloads to the mission that is set to launch from the company’s pad on the southern tip of the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s Northern Island.

Originally, the third flight of Electron was scheduled to launch from the Mahia Peninsula between 20 April and 3 May 2018 until a wet dress rehearsal of the rocket identified a motor control issue.  The launch team stood down launch operations in order to review the data, identify the root cause of the issue, and fix the failure.

With the motor control problem’s corrective action now identified and in work, Rocket Lab is retargeting launch for a new 14 day window between the end of June and beginning of July.  The daily launch windows between 23 June and 6 July extend through the early afternoon hours New Zealand time and the very early morning hours UTC.

In the United States, the daily launch windows actually open on the prior calendar day, with the U.S.-adjusted launch times opening daily from 22 June to 5 July at 20:30 EDT (8 p.m. Eastern) and closing on the following calendar day at 00:30 EDT (12:30 a.m Eastern).  For the Pacific time zone, in which Rocket Lab is headquartered, the daily launch windows are 22 June – 5 July from 17:30-21:30 PDT (5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Pacific).

Electron “Still Testing” on its sea-side launch pad on the southern tip of the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s Northern Island. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Intriguingly, the two month delay has had an unintended and positive outcome from a payload perspective, with Rocket Lab announcing the addition of two new payloads for the It’s Business Time mission: IRVINE 01 and NABEO.

IRVINE 01 is an educational nano-satellite payload from the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program and is a joint educational endeavor to teach, train, and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.  Students from six high schools in Irvine, California, including Beckman, Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University, and Woodbridge, developed IRVINE 01 – which is funded by private sector donations to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

Over 150 students have participated in the project, with their primary objective being to assemble, test, and launch IRVINE 01 into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  The CubeSat carries a low-resolution camera that will take pictures of Venus, stars, and other celestial objects, with the images used to calculate distances to stars and determine pointing accuracy and stability of the satellite.

The other payload added to the mission is NABEO, a drag sail technology demonstrator designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems GmBH that will test the ability to passively deorbit inactive, small satellites using atmospheric drag.

The NABEO demonstrator launching on It’s Business Time will use a small sail, an ultra thin membrane, that will be tightly coiled within the spacecraft for launch and deployed once the satellite reaches the end of its operational lifespan.

The reflective, ultra-thin membrane panels will unfold to a 2.5 square meters (8.2 square feet) size and will subsequently increase the spacecraft’s surface drag against atmospheric particles present at its operational altitude.

The greater drag will pull the satellite back to Earth faster than would normally occur, enabling a quicker deorbiting of the spacecraft, thereby reducing the amount of space junk in LEO.  The hope is that this type of system could be incorporated on future spacecraft to aid in the responsible use of Earth orbit by eliminating space junk when satellites reach the end of their operational lives.

With the addition of IRVINE 01 and NABEO, the two new payloads join the existing payload customers on It’s Business Time, which include two Lemur-2 satellites from Spire Global and a GeoOptics Inc. satellite built by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

The mission patch for Electrons third flight, It’s Business Time. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

This gives Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems two payloads on It’s Business Time, as they are the payload integrator for IRVINE 01 and worked closely with Rocket Lab to identify this opportunity for rapid flight certification on Electron.

Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation similarly assisted with the addition of the NABEO drag sail demonstrator on this Electron mission.

Speaking to the rapid inclusion of new payloads less than two months prior to launch, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck stated, “Rocket Lab’s responsive space model is crucial to support the exponential growth of the small satellite market.  That a customer can come to us seeking a ride to orbit and we can have them booked to launch in weeks is unheard of in the launch business.

“Small satellites are playing an increasingly important role in providing crucial services that benefit millions of people on Earth.  Frequent access to orbit is the key to unlocking the potential for these satellites, and Rocket Lab is the only small launch provider currently enabling this access.”

Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 with a mission to revolutionize the way small satellite companies access space and how space is developed via the use of advanced rockets that cost just a fraction of that of traditional launch services.

The company’s first successful orbital launch occurred earlier this year on 21 January 2018 when the Electron rocket “Still Testing” successfully inserted the company’s first commercial payloads into LEO.

It’s Business Time will be the third flight of Electron and the first operational mission of the rocket, which includes battery-powered electric motors and 3D printed components for its Rutherford engines.  Overall, Rocket Lab hopes to launch numerous missions this year, including an upcoming flight with NASA payloads destined for Low Earth Orbit.

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