After years of launching rockets from New Zealand, commercial space company Rocket Lab is ready for its US debut.
The California-based rocket lab will launch its first mission from U.S. soil today (Dec. 18) from its new Launch Complex 2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallop Island, Virginia. The mission, which will use an Electron rocket to launch three HawkEye 360 satellites into orbit, will lift off in two hours, opening at 18:00 EST (2300 GMT) and you can watch it live for free in the window above. Rocket Lab will begin its webcast about 40 minutes before liftoff.
“Obviously, this is a major milestone for Rocket Lab,” CEO Peter Beck told reporters at a Dec. 14 pre-launch briefing. “It feels great to be in this moment.” Rocket Lab was originally scheduled to launch on Dec. 13, but canceled the liftoff to conduct additional tests, weather and finalize flight paperwork.
Related: Rocket Lab’s 1st US launch can be seen along the East Coast on December 18
Rocket Lab Launch Visibility!
Rocket Lab’s first US launch could be seen by millions on the East Coast! Here’s where and when to look. If you see it, let us know with photos and comments on the site [email protected]!
Sunday’s launch, dubbed “Virginia Is For Launch Lovers” (a play on the state’s tourism motto, “Virginia Is For Lovers”), will mark the beginning of a new era of flexibility for Rocket Lab as it aims to serve launch customers around the world. . The company worked with NASA at Wallops, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which oversees Wallops’ commercial launch capabilities, to develop the new pad.
So far, Rocket Lab has used its two pads at its Launch Complex 1 on the coast of New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula to conduct flights. The US launch platform will allow the company to launch missions for customers that require a US launch, such as government or military customers, Beck has said.
Rocket Lab opened its Launch Complex 2 in 2019 and originally planned to launch its first mission from there in 2020. But the first flight was delayed by two years because of NASA delays in developing a new autonomous end-of-flight system, which is needed for the safety system Electron launches from the Wallops Flight Facility. Rocket Lab uses a version of NASA’s autonomous flight completion system, which the company calls Pegasus, for its Electron flights.
David Pierce, director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, told reporters that the delay was due to bugs discovered in NASA’s system software and subsequent inspections by the space agency, the US Space Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. NASA and the FAA completed certification of the system ahead of Sunday’s launch attempt and signed the final launch documents on Saturday (Dec. 17).
“It’s been nothing short of a Herculean effort to get us to this point, which I see as a turning point in launch range operations, not only in Wallops, but across the United States,” Pierce said.
Rocket Lab’s Virginia Is For Launch Lovers mission is the first of three flights for Virginia-based HawkEye 360, which is building a constellation of small satellites for radio frequency monitoring. According to a multi-launch contract signed by HawkEye 360 in April, Rocket Lab will put 15 small satellites into orbit by 2024.
“These missions will augment the HawkEye 360 constellation of radio frequency observation satellites, allowing the company to better provide accurate mapping of radio frequency emissions around the world,” Rocket Lab wrote in the mission description. (opens in a new tab).
We’re celebrating some big Electron events this week: ✅ First mission from the US ✅ First mission @hawkeye360 ✅ First mission with autonomous flight abort system WallopsVirginia for launch lovers flying NET on December 15th. Keep an eye on the weather. pic.twitter.com/P7Dlq0X01hDecember 13, 2022
Ultimately, Rocket Lab aims to launch one Electron mission per month from the Wallops pad. The company is also building a new, larger reusable rocket called Neutron, which will also lift off from a US launch site. The first flight of this rocket is planned not earlier than in 2024.
Beck said Rocket Lab’s launch team has already learned from the first mission’s handling of Wallops (rocket components are shipped in a container to space) and that the basics of rocket preparation at the new US pad will be carried over to the new Neutron. program. Rocket Lab is also building a Neutron rocket plant in Virginia.
“I think, you know, there’s been a lot of learning from that,” Beck said. “The next few launches will be significantly more streamlined.”
But for now, he added, the Electron needs to make its first flight.
“The rocket is ready and it’s on the pad,” Beck said. “The team is ready and it’s time to fly.”
Email Tariq Malik at [email protected] or follow him @tariqjmalik (opens in a new tab). follow us @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab), Facebook (opens in a new tab) and Instagram (opens in a new tab).