The Air Force successfully launched two experimental cubesats aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket Aug. 19 to serve as an on-orbit testbed for emerging technologies in 2019.
Electron lifted off around 6 a.m. MDT from Rocket Lab’s Launch Pad 1 in Mahia, New Zealand, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) said in a press release. One of two missions aboard was the command’s Pearl White, a demonstration program with two 6U cubesats built by Herndon, Virginia-based Tiger Innovations, Inc.
“The demonstration will test new technologies including propulsion, power, communications, and drag capabilities for potential applications on future spacecraft,” the press release said. The spacecraft will launch to Low-Earth Orbit, where the payloads will operate for a one-year lifetime after deployment. Tiger will operate the spacecraft for the life of the program under the direction and oversight of AFSPC, the command said.
The mission was a rideshare payload for Electron’s main mission, dubbed “Look Ma, No Hands.” It carried one small satellite to orbit to begin a new maritime surveillance constellation for French company UNSEENLABS. Spaceflight Industries also manifested three satellites as a rideshare payload, which included Earth-imaging systems to fill the company’s Black Sky constellation.
This was Electron’s eighth launch overall and fourth mission of 2019, according to Rocket Lab. On Aug. 6, the company’s founder Peter Beck announced plans to recover and re-launch the first stage of the Electron rocket to increase launch frequency and reduce production time.