Rocket Lab's Queen-Inspired Mission Will Be Burnin' Through the Sky Tomorrow
The countdown is on for Rocket Lab's Queen-inspired Don't Stop Me Now rocket launch.
The rocket will break free of Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand — during a launch window that starts no earlier than 04:43, 11 June UTC — with the fine-tuned precision of a Brian May guitar lick.
Update 11/06/20: Rocket Lab has now confirmed via a tweet that the launch will not go ahead tonight due to "high winds". However, the company says there are several days left in the mission's launch window and they will post the new launch date soon.
It will take with it several small satellites and payloads, for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra Space.
Mama mia let me go
The Don't Stop Me Now mission was originally slated to launch in March but wasn't allowed to set off at the original date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As California-based Rocket Lab quipped in a press release, they may have tempted fate with the name of the mission, which was dubbed after the Queen song in memory of Rocket Lab board member and avid Queen fan Scott Smith, who recently passed away.
Now, as New Zealand is doing a pretty good job of containing the virus, Rocket Lab's launch is back on track.
The current launch time scheduled is for 04:43, 11 June UTC, though there are back up times readied through June 24th in case of inclement weather. The launch vehicle is the 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron, which can deliver about 500 lbs. (227 kilograms) to orbit. Each mission costs roughly $5 million.
As Rocket Lab points out on its website, the rocket is a rideshare mission that will launch several small satellites, including the ANDESITE (Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) satellite created by electrical and mechanical engineering students and professors at Boston University.
The satellite will launch as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and is set to conduct a groundbreaking scientific study into Earth’s magnetic field.
Once in space, the ANDESITE satellite will start taking measurements of the magnetosphere with onboard sensors. Later, it will release eight pico satellites, each carrying small magnetometer sensors that allow them to track a phenomenon known as space weather — essentially, electric current flowing in and out of the atmosphere.
Reducing the costs of space flight
Much like SpaceX, Rocket Lab's mission is to reduce the cost it takes to launch payloads up into space. While a typical rocket launch costs approximately $50 million, Rocket Lab's launches are much more accessible at $5 million a pop.
The company also loves giving their missions and machines slightly loopy names. Aside from 'Don't Stop Me Now', they've named other missions 'Look Ma, No Hands,' 'Make it Rain,' 'Running Out Of Fingers,' and 'As the Crow Flies' — we love it.
Impressively, Rocket Lab uses 3D printing technology to fabricate its engine parts. Through a method called electron beam melting — which sees metal powder melted layer by layer via an electric beam — the company created high strength, low weight engine parts. The Electron rocket also uses battery power to reduce weight and increase efficiency.
Unlike SpaceX, Rocket Lab currently doesn't recover the Electron rocket's first stage boosters after launch, though they aim to do so in the future — by plucking them out of the sky with a helicopter, as demonstrated in the video demo above.
All of Rocket Lab's previous ten missions have taken off from the company's assistive base in New Zealand, Launch Complex 1. However, the company recently completed a second launch site, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Virginia's Wallops Island.
A live stream of the launch will be available approximately 15 minutes prior to the target launch time here on Rocket Lab's website.
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