Rocket Lab, a launch company operating from NZ’s North Island, has announced that it will launch a dedicated mission for the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The NRO is the US agency responsible for the acquisition and sustainment of American intelligence satellites.
The launch window is scheduled to open on Friday and the mission, called ‘Birds of a Feather,’ will lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, on the Mahia Peninsula.
The NRO competitively awarded the contract under the Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract vehicle. RASR allows the NRO to explore new launch opportunities that can provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.
Rocket Lab’s Senior Vice President – Global Launch Services, Lars Hoffman, said the Electron vehicle is uniquely placed to deliver the kind of frequent, rapidly-acquired launch opportunities required by the NRO and other government agencies to ensure resiliency in space.
“We are honoured the NRO has selected Rocket Lab as the launch provider for this dedicated mission,” Hoffman said. “The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements.
“As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure.”
Rocket Lab has been launching since January 2018 and has since delivered 47 satellites to orbit on the Electron launch vehicle, enabling operations in space debris mitigation, Earth observation, ship and airplane tracking, and radio communications.
The company previously told ADM it is looking to lure Australian satellite companies to its launch site across the Tasman.
“The NZ government played an important role in creating a modern, forward-thinking regulatory framework that aims to enable a strong space economy,” Sandy Tirtey, Rocket Lab's Director of Business Development Australia, said.
“The key to providing better access to space is launch frequency. Launch Complex 1 in NZ offers clear skies and seas, as well as a wide range of inclinations from sun-synchronous through to 39 degrees, and site is licensed for up to 120 launches per year - which is more launch availability than you can get in some entire countries.
“We're seeing some truly innovative satellite technology coming out of Australia. With a proven launch vehicle and an established launch site just next door, it's never been easier for Australian innovators, researchers and educational institutions to get their technology to orbit.”