SpaceX Has a New Competitor





Earlier this week, Rocket Lab launched its “Baby Come Back” electron rocket at 9:27 p.m. EDT from New Zealand, sending seven satellites into orbit. The satellite cargo was provided by NASA, Space Flight Laboratory, and Spire Global. 

Rocket Lab was using this shipment to test out the Electron rocket booster’s reusability design. And it appears to have been a success.

The Electron rocket took off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The first stage Electron rocket began its descent back to Earth approximately 17 minutes after launching, completing a soft cannonball into the ocean softened by a guiding parachute.

Previous attempts at testing the Electron rocket had Rocket Labs trying to catch the first stage booster rockets mid-air as reported by Gizmodo, and that went about as well as you’d expect. The rockets got wet but kept working. That’s why this time around Rocket Lab avoided unnecessary risk and prepped the rocket for an intentional quick dip in the ocean.

As outlined in Rocket Lab’s “Baby Come Back” mission overview, satellite cargo included:

  • NASA’s Starling mission is a four CubeSat mission designed to test technologies to enable future “swarm” missions. Spacecraft swarms refer to multiple spacecraft autonomously coordinating their activities to achieve certain goals. Starling will demonstrate technologies for in-space network communications, onboard relative navigation between spacecraft, autonomous maneuver planning, and execution, and distributed spacecraft autonomy – an experiment for small spacecraft to autonomously react to observations, paving the way for future science missions.
  • Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) selected Rocket Lab to launch Telesat’s LEO 3 demonstration satellite which will provide continuity for customer and ecosystem vendor testing campaigns following the decommissioning of Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite.
  • Spire Global will launch two 3U satellites carrying Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occultation (GNSS-RO) payloads to replenish its fully deployed constellation of more than 100 multipurpose satellites. Spire’s satellites observe the Earth in real time using radio frequency technology. The data acquired by Spire’s GNSS-RO payloads provide global weather intelligence that can be assimilated into weather models to improve the accuracy of forecasts. Spire is the largest producer of GNSS-RO weather data, collecting over 20,000 RO profiles a day.

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