On its first nightly launch, Rocket Lab's Electron-Booster climbed into orbit on Sunday in New Zealand with a trio of small US military payloads. This demonstrates the ability of the privately developed rocket to meet the growing demand of the Air Force to smallsat.
The 17-meter, two-stage electron rocket ignited two Rutherford main engines at 6:00 am GMT on Sunday, shooting off the commercial launch site of Rocket Lab on New Zealand's North Island.
19659003] The satellite carried three small satellites for the US Air Force and the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, moving from a tissue box to a small refrigerator. The space test program, a unit at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, which provides access to spacecraft military experiments, has enabled the launch of the multi-satellites with Rocket Lab.
Sunday's mission was Rocket Lab's first for the US Air Force.
Shortly after sunset in New Zealand heading east across the Pacific Ocean, the all-black Carbon Electron Launcher made of carbon composite put its first engines into flight after two and a half minutes and launched the booster into the sea.
A single Rutherford engine fired on the second stage of the Electron to place the mission's three small transport loads into a temporary transfer orbit about nine minutes after the flight. The missile's Curie upper stage disintegrated a few seconds later, starting with a nearly three-minute burn that began at T + plus 49 minutes to bring the three payloads of the mission into a targeted 500-kilometer-long orbit with a grade of 40 degrees to the equator.
Rocket Lab's live video webcast ended before the Curie Kick Stage orbit burned, but Peter Beck, founder and CEO of the company, confirmed the successful maneuver and deployment of the three satellite payloads of the Rocket in a tweet.
] "Perfect flight, full of mission success, all payloads used!" Beck tweeted.
Rocket Lab intended to launch the mission on Saturday, but the authorities delayed the launch to carry out additional checks on payloads. The total payload of the mission – around 180 kilograms – made this rocket the heaviest ever start.
The largest satellite launched on Sunday is Harbinger.
Built by York Space Systems in Denver. The Harbinger mission is sponsored by the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. The approximately 150-kilogram spacecraft accommodates several demonstration technological payloads, including a synthetic aperture radar for Earth observation in all weathers and a high-speed communication link to transmit the radar images to ground users. [19659003DasRadarbild-InstrumentdesHarbinger-SatellitenstammtvonICEYEeinemfinnischenUnternehmendaseigenekommerzielleRadarbeobachtungs-SmatsatsentwickeltundeingeführthatDieRadarbild-NutzlastaufHarbinger"bietetkommerziellenZugriffaufzeitnaheundzuverlässigeErdbeobachtungsdatenundistinderLagejedenTagaufderErdeinregelmäßigenAbständenTagundNachtunabhängigvonderWolkenbedeckungabzubilden"heißtesindemMerkblattderArmeeüberdieMission
A high-speed laser communications terminal on Harbinger of BridgeSat will be the radar images abwärtsverknüpfend and demonstrate rapid data acquisition function that can be used by tactical forces on the battlefield.
Harbinger was assisted in launching Electron by two tech demo CubeSats named SPARC-1 and Falcon ODE.
The space plug-and-play architectural research CubeSat-1, about the size of a briefcase, is a joint US military military nanosatellite for military research.
SPARC-1 will test miniaturized avionics, a software-defined radio system and a visible camera. The US sponsor of the mission is the Air Force Research Laboratory, which developed the mission in collaboration with the Swedish Defense Agency.
The six-person CubeSat prime contractor was the Swedish micro-maker ÅAC Microtecs.
The smallest payload was introduced Sunday was the Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment, a one-piece CubeSat slightly larger than a Rubik's Cube. The Falcon ODE spacecraft, developed by the US Air Force Academy, will release two orbital stainless steel bullets into calibration targets for ground-based space surveillance radars.
The Air Force booked the Sunday mission with Rocket Lab, designated STP-27RD by the Space Test Program, in 2017 as part of the military's Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI).
The STP 27RD mission was the first in the RALI program to launch commercial carrier launches to enable military satellites to accelerate into orbit.
Air Force officials said last month that five RALI launches are planned before the end of 2019. including the STP 27RD mission with the Rocket Lab's Electron Launcher and a Virgin Orbits LauncherOne vehicle flight later in the year. The five missions, including the launch of the STP-27RD on Sunday, will provide space for 21 research and development satellites, according to Lieutenant-General Andrew Anderson, head of the Department of Defense departmental review program.
The RALI missions "will put DoD experiments into orbit and demonstrate new launchers from new commercial vendors," Anderson said in a teleconference to reporters last month.
The sixth flight of the electron rocket started on Sunday by Rocket Lab since 2017 and the second this year, Rocket Lab, headquartered in the US and factories in Southern California and Auckland, New Zealand, intends to launch about one mission per month by 2019, by the end of the year 
Rocket Lab charges less than $ 7 million for its launch, and Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne, which has not yet flown and will fall from an airplane jet, costs about $ 12 million per flight.
Both price points make up a fraction of the cost of launching a larger rocket Boosters typically fly as second class payloads, with orbits and schedules being determined by the needs of a higher priority spacecraft on the same flight.
"We see a lot of bang for this venture. small launchers of the class, "said Col. Bernard Brining, director of the Space Test Program. "We see value for the space test program. As a director I can get a lot of (more) payloads in orbit at very low cost. "
Many companies – more than 100 in some cases – are developing small-scale satellite launchers, but Rocket Lab is the first of a new generation of commercial companies to launch a new orbital-grade rocket.
The wave of new private microenterprises has asked many in the industry how many face the challenges of fundraising, technical development, and a constantly evolving market.
"I think the market is still shaking here and we're trying to get involved," said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Launch Systems and Air Force Missile Systems Center. "And if the market will support many (companies), we support contracts for many, because … that will be very useful to us to bring our required national safety payloads into the small launch class into space."
So far Most military small satellites have been experimental. In the future, small spacecraft could play a more important role in the communications, navigation and surveillance fleets of the US military.
"Although many of the small satellites we have launched so far were research and development satellites, this will change in the US future," said Bongiovi.
"What we really would like to see … is the ability to use them not only for experimental launches, which we will continue to do, but also for more operational prototypes and finally for operating systems," said Bongiovi. "I think it's absolutely something to say about these smaller launchers that they have some of the resiliency we all consider necessary."
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