Rocket Lab to launch mysterious space mission – what could it be?

NASA recently announced its Wallops Visitor Center won't be open for the mission and 'there is no live stream planned for launch'.
Chris Young
Electron taking to the skies on a previous mission.
Electron taking to the skies on a previous mission.

Rocket Lab 

Rocket Lab will launch a mission from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia within the next few days, but the company has not disclosed what it is lifting to orbit and it won't stream the mission live.

NASA announced via Twitter on Tuesday, June 13, that its Wallops facility is "scheduled to support a Rocket Lab launch between June 15-20 in the evening."

Rocket Lab typically live streams orbital launches of its Electron rocket, but that won't be the case for the upcoming mission. "There is no live stream planned for launch, and the Wallops Visitor Center will not be open for launch," NASA added on Twitter.

Rocket Lab's mystery mission will fly in a matter of days

Speculation is understandably rife due to the mysterious nature of the upcoming mission; a report from suggests it might be launching Rocket Lab's new suborbital testbed rocket, called HASTE, to orbit for the first time.

The reason behind this is that HASTE will be provided via Rocket Lab's national security-focused subsidiary using a modified version of Electron. Rocket Lab and its customers likely won't want visible modifications to Electron to become public knowledge due to the secretive nature of the HASTE program.

What we do know about HASTE, which stands for "Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron", is that it was designed to help test technologies for a hypersonic craft capable of flying at up to Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

When it announced HASTE in April, Rocket Lab said that the modified Electron will use the same 3D-printed Rutherford engines, but it will have a modified Kick Stage for hypersonic payload deployment. The US and New Zealand-based firm also stated at the time that the first launch of HASTE is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2023 for a "confidential customer."

HASTE is capable of lifting a payload of up to 1,540 lbs (700 kg), while Electron can deliver up to 660 lbs (300 kg) to low Earth orbit (LEO).

Rocket Lab goes hypersonic

Hypersonic test capabilities are a vital component of the US's national security interests. Other firms, including Stratolaunch and Blue Origin, also offer similar hypersonic test services.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket has been flying since 2018, and it has successfully deployed several high-profile missions, including the lunar satellite CAPSTONE for NASA and its recent launch of Varda Space Industries' space factory mission.

The private rocket company also aims to launch its reusable next-gen Neutron rocket next year, with a view to competing with SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches. It also aims to become the first private space firm to send a spacecraft to another planet with its self-funded Venus mission, though that mission was recently pushed back to 2025.

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