Rocket Lab sets December date for second Electron launch

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WASHINGTON — U.S.-New Zealand launch vehicle developer Rocket Lab announced Nov. 29 it plans to conduct the second launch of its Electron small rocket in December.

The company said a 10-day launch window for the launch, dubbed “Still Testing,” will open Dec. 8 at 2:30 p.m. local time from the company’s New Zealand launch site (8:30 p.m. Eastern Dec. 7). Unlike the first Electron launch, the second will be livestreamed, the company said.

Rocket Lab carried out its first Electron launch in May. The initial phases of the launch went as planned, but range safety officials terminated the flight about four minutes after liftoff, during the second stage burn. The company said that a software error made by a contractor led to the loss of telemetry, not a problem with the vehicle itself.

“Electron’s first test made history when it became the first orbital-class launch vehicle to reach space from a private launch facility,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, in a statement. The vehicle reached a peak altitude of 224 kilometers on that test flight, hence the claim of reaching space despite not reaching orbit.

“We analyzed more than 25,000 channels of data from flight one, and we’re eager to learn more from this test flight,” Beck said. “This is the first test carrying customer payloads and we’ll be monitoring everything closely as we attempt to reach orbit.”

Unlike the first launch, which carried only instrumentation, this mission will carry payloads from two companies. Planet will provide a single Dove imaging cubesat, while Spire will provide two Lemur-2 ship-tracking and weather satellites that will be placed into an orbit by the Electron.

Planet, in a statement last week, dubbed its satellite being launched on this mission “Dove Pioneer.” The name, he said, is intended to reference both the “amazing space pioneers” of the past as well as pioneering a new way of building and launching satellites in the future. That satellite, Planet said, will be placed into an orbit of 300 by 500 kilometers at an inclination of 83 degrees.

The launch is the second of three planned test launches of the Electron originally announced by Rocket Lab. However, Beck said in August that, should the second launch be successful, the company would move ahead into full-fledged commercial operations. “Running another test flight won’t actually achieve much for us other than statistics,” he said then.

Rocket Lab has a number of launches on its manifest when commercial operations begin. They include a set of small satellites under a NASA Venture Class Launch Services contract awarded in 2015, as well as the first lunar mission for Moon Express. That latter spacecraft would have to launch in time to complete its mission by the end of March in order to be eligible to win the Google Lunar X Prize, under the competition’s existing deadline.