Rocket Lab launches Secret Satellite

At 2:26 AM Est from Launch Complex 1 at Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

Due to some sensor readings today’s launch comes four days after the original planned launch time, and with only a few hours delay into the most current launch window due to some strong winds, Rocket Lab sends up a payload that was socked in secrecy since the announcement of the launch, which came just weeks ago on January 5th of this year. In fact the name of the satellite was not even disclosed by the German group, OHB until after the rocket was well on it’s way to orbit. Their press kit did not include the satellite’s mass or orbital altitude. We really only knew the Rocket Lab mission title, “Another One Leaves the Crust” We do know however that OHB Group builds small and medium sized satellites, and the payload for this mission “is a single communication microsatellite that will enable specific frequencies to support future services from orbit.” Rocket Lab said in an official statement.

Photo by: Rory Gannaway – NHS

Just three years to the day after the company first reached orbit, this launch is the initial launch of what rocket Lab is calling “A packed launch manifest” They have not stated exactly how many launches they have slated for 2021 but we do know they plan to not only launch from Launch Complex 1 along with another Launch Complex located in New Zealand, but also from their Launch Complex 2 which is located at NASA’s Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Wallops Island, Virginia. Speculation is the satellite customer is GMS Zhaopin, a Chinese company planning a satellite constellation. This comes from a tweet shortly after launch where the company calls the satellite GMS-T as being underway. In a statement shortly after the launch the OHB Group describes GMS-T as a 50kg class satellite placed into an orbit 1,200 kilometers high, and as the first prototype spacecraft for a planned new telecommunications constellation made up of hundreds of these satellites.

“Another One Leaves the Crust” is the 18th overall mission for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, a two stage fifty-eight foot tall partially recoverable rocket powered by nine Rutherford engines. Those engines are also the first electric pump fed engines to power an orbital launch vehicle. The company has also developed an optional third stage which has been designed to circularize the orbits of satellite payloads. This stage can also put their payloads into a more accurate orbit in less time using a new rocket engine dubbed “Curie”. This engine is 3D printed and is reported to use an unspecified “green” bipropellant, and was first used on Electron’s second flight.