Rocket Lab launches first flight from Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Rocket Lab launches first flight from Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Rocket Lab launches first flight from Virginia’s Eastern Shore

A Rocket Lab Electron booster blasted off from Virginia’s Eastern Shore on Tuesday, propelling three radio mapping satellites into orbit in the company’s first launch from U.S. soil. It was the first commercial rocket to use autonomous self-destruct software developed by NASA, designed to reduce costs while ensuring public safety.

“This flight just doesn’t symbolize another launch pad for Rocket Lab,” said company founder Peter Beck. “It supports a new capability for the nation. It’s a new AFTS (automated flight termination) system coming online for industry. And it’s a new missile to Virginia and the Wallops Flight.”

Delayed a month due to weather and holiday scheduling, the 60-foot-tall Electron launched with a burst of fiery exhaust at 6 p.m. EST and quickly launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), on NASA’s Wallops Island. , Virginia, flying facility.

A Rocket Lab electron booster powered by 3D-printed engines roars away from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility, Virginia, carrying three Hawkeye 360 ​​radio mapping satellites. It was Rocket Lab's first launch from U.S. soil since 32 flights from the company's launch complex in New Zealand.  / Credit: Rocket Lab

A Rocket Lab electron booster powered by 3D-printed engines roars away from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, Virginia, carrying three Hawkeye 360 ​​radio mapping satellites. It was Rocket Lab’s first launch from U.S. soil since 32 flights from the company’s launch complex in New Zealand. / Credit: Rocket Lab

All missiles launched by the US are required to carry self-destruct systems capable of quickly destroying a booster off course before any debris reaches a populated area. In previous US launches, military personnel, using tracking radar and other systems, were ready to transmit self-destruct signals if needed.

But SpaceX now uses a company-developed automatic self-destruct system designed specifically for Falcon 9 rockets that requires far fewer people to operate. Electron is the first to use NASA software, which does much the same thing, but can be configured for any rocket.

“Autonomous flight termination technology reduces the need for some ground elements and personnel, ultimately leading to cost savings,” said David Pierce, director of the Wallops Flight Facility.

“To date, 18 companies have requested the software through NASA’s technology transfer process,” Pierce added. “Rocket Lab was among the first applicants for the software to enable launch from Wallops. It was a big milestone.”

After the Electron was boosted from the lower atmosphere, the nine Rutherford engines at the base of the first stage shut down, and the single engine powering the second stage took over for the next seven minutes.

At that point, a third “kick” stage carrying three HawkEye 360 ​​radio mapping satellites separated to fly alone. After a scheduled firing of the kick stage engine about an hour after liftoff, the satellites were expected to be released into a 341-mile-high orbit.

HawkEye 360 ​​satellites are launched in groups of three. They are designed to scan the sky to search for and map radio transmissions from the ground, air and space, data useful to military, law enforcement and other civilian and commercial users.

Heading into Tuesday’s flight, Rocket Lab had launched 152 small satellites in 29 successful launches from two electronic pads at New Zealand. The company plans to launch Electrons on a regular basis from Wallops and is developing a larger, fully reusable rocket called Neutron that will be integrated and launched from Virginia.

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