The California-based Rocket Lab is set to launch its Electron rocket for the company’s first mission for the U.S. Space Force in partnership with DoD’s Space Test Program and the Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) Small Launch and Targets Division.
The launch of the Space Force’s classified STP-27RM mission, an experimental, research-and-development micro-satellite, is expected by the end of the month from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) on Wallops Island, Va. Rocket Lab had planned the launch for spring of this year, but COVID-19 contributed to launch delays.
Rocket Lab opened LC-2 at the Wallops Island Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) last December (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2019). The company also launches from its Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
The company, which focuses on the “responsive space,” rapid-launch of small and cube satellites as opposed to the costly, time consuming launch of traditional military satellites, may see a significant demand from U.S. Space Force. The Electron’s advertised launch cost is $6 million.
The Electron is a two-stage rocket, with an optional third, for launching small satellites and cube satellites into sun-synchronous orbit and low earth orbit. Rocket Lab has said that the Electron is the first orbital class rocket to use electric-pump-fed engines, powered by nine Rutherford engines on the first stage.
Rocket Lab said on Sept. 17 that it conducted a “wet dress rehearsal” this week of the rocket launch to check systems and procedures.
“The Electron launch vehicle was rolled out to the pad, raised vertical and filled with high grade kerosene and liquid oxygen to verify fueling procedures,” the company said in a statement. “The launch team then flowed through the integrated countdown to T-0 to carry out the same operations they will undertake on launch day. Before a launch window can be set, NASA is conducting the final development and certification of its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) software for the mission. This flight will be the first time an AFTS has been flown from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and represents a valuable new capability for the spaceport.”
SMC has said that LC-2 is to support up to 12 launches per year. LC-1 in New Zealand, which has launched 14 Electron missions, is able to support another 120 missions per year, per Rocket Lab.
Peter Beck, an engineer and the founder and CEO of Rocket Lab, said in a statement that “responsive space is the key to resilience in space and this is what Launch Complex 2 enables.
“All satellites are vulnerable, be it from accidental or deliberate actions,” he said. “By operating a proven launch vehicle from two launch sites on opposite sides of the world, Rocket Lab delivers unmatched flexibility and responsiveness for the defense and national security community to quickly replace any disabled satellite. We’re immensely proud to be delivering reliable and flexible launch capability to the U.S. Space Force and the wider defense community as space becomes an increasingly contested domain.”
The company also said that the building of the Rocket Lab Integration and Control Facility (ICF) within the Wallops Research Park, adjacent to NASA Wallops Flight Facility Main Base, is nearly done.
The ICF is to house “a launch control center, state-of-the-art payload integration facilities, and a vehicle integration department that enables the processing of multiple Electron vehicles to support multiple launches in rapid succession,” per Rocket Lab.