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Rocket Lab Returns to Flight with Successful “Moon God Awakens” Mission

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Dec 15, 2023

Rocket Lab successfully launched its Electron rocket Thursday from New Zealand, marking the company’s return to flight three months after an anomaly ended another mission prematurely. This mission, dubbed “The Moon God Awakens,” carried a communications satellite for Japanese startup Synspective into orbit.

Successful Launch Follows Anomaly in September

In September, an Electron rocket experienced an anomaly during its “Look Ma No Hands” mission resulting in the loss of its payload satellites. After an investigation, Rocket Lab identified the issue as a sensor that caused the second stage engine to shut down early, and implemented corrective actions (Space.com).

Thursday’s smooth flight helped demonstrate these remedies resolved the problem that previously plagued Rocket Lab. Peter Beck, founder and CEO, tweeted his thanks to the team for their hard work returning the Electron back to flight.

Launch Events Timeline

| Time (UTC) | Event |
| ------------- |:-------------|
| 2023-12-14 at 22:57:00 | Liftoff |
| 2023-12-15 at 23:02:30 | Fairing separation |  
| 2023-12-15 at 23:07:58 | 1st stage engine cut-off |
| 2023-12-15 at 23:11:44 | 2nd stage engine cut-off |  
| 2023-12-15 at 23:17:44 | Payload deployed |

Key events during the Electron’s 9 minute 21 second flight on December 14-15 UTC (Source)

The flawless mission sets up Rocket Lab to finish the year strong and maintain the record monthly launch pace it achieved so far in 2023.

Japanese Startup Synspective Reaches Key Milestone

Rocket Lab’s “Moon God Awakens” mission carried StriX-α, a commercial satellite for Synspective built to test synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology (ABC News).

Synspective aims to provide imagery of Earth on par with larger, government-funded SAR satellites using a constellation of small commercial satellites like StriX-α.

Synspective's StriX-α Satellite

| Specs | Details |
|--|--|
| Manufacturer | Synspective | 
| Purpose | Test and validate SAR technologies |
| Size | 50cm x 50cm x 95cm |
| Mass | ~100kg |
| Orbit | Sun-synchronous at 514km altitude |
| Design Life | 5 years |

Key details on Synspective’s StriX-α communications satellite launched by Rocket Lab (Source)

Successfully achieving orbit marks a key step for Synspective toward its goal of having a constellation providing daily imagery to customers. StriX-α will test SAR components and train algorithms to process SAR data.

Busy Launch Schedule Continues for Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab launched Electron 7 times so far in 2023, equaling its total yearly launches in its two previous highest years, 2021 and 2022 (RNZ). The company does not expect its pace to slow down, targeting a monthly launch rate thanks to its ability to produce an Electron rocket every 18 days.

Upcoming missions on Rocket Lab’s manifest include launches from all three of its pads – two located at its New Zealand site and one at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Payloads run the gamut from commercial small satellites to missions serving government and defense agency customers.

With Thursday’s success getting back on track after the September anomaly, Rocket Lab continues pushing toward its goal of being the leading dedicated small satellite launch provider.

What Comes Next for Rocket Lab and the Electron Rocket?

This mission helped Rocket Lab close the book on its September failure. It can now resume other projects sidelined while the company investigated and resolved the issue.

Most notably, Rocket Lab plans to attempt catching Electron’s first stage with a helicopter mid-air over the Pacific Ocean early next year. If successful, this would allow Rocket Lab to reuse Electron’s first stage, reducing launch costs by up to 30% (Everyday Astronaut).

Reusability would provide Rocket Lab a competitive edge as it jockeys for market share with other major launch providers like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. It expects a high volume of launches annually for years to come as satellite operators continue building out communications and Earth observation constellations.

With the Electron back on track toward Rocket Lab’s goal of weekly launches next year, the roads ahead look promising for the innovative launch services company.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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