Electron launch
A Rocket Lab Electron rocket lifts off July 29 on its return-to-flight mission. Rocket Lab will perform three Electron launches from late August through September, each carrying two BlackSky satellites. Credit: Rocket Lab

Updated 4:45 p.m. Eastern with Rocket Lab comment on launch pads.

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab will conduct three launches of satellites for Earth observation company BlackSky in about one month, the fastest launch cadence the company had demonstrated to date.

Rocket Lab said Aug. 10 it will perform the three launches between late August and the end of September from New Zealand as part of a multi-launch agreement Rocket Lab reached with BlackSky and arranged by launch services provider Spaceflight earlier this year. Each launch will carry two Gen-2 BlackSky imaging satellites.

The first of those launches under the contract took place in May, but the two BlackSky satellites on board were lost when the rocket’s upper stage malfunctioned. Rocket Lab returned Electron to service with a launch of a U.S. Space Force satellite July 29.

At the time of the May launch failure, Brian O’Toole, chief executive of BlackSky, said the company had satellites ready to launch as well as an “active production line” of satellites being produced by LeoStella. He said the company, which is in the process of going public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition corporation, would remain “on track to meet our business objectives.”

“We’ve been partnering strongly with Rocket Lab over the past several months to gain high confidence in a launch campaign that will increase the capacity of our space network,” O’Toole said in a statement. “This cadence of rapid launches demonstrates the accelerated pace at which we are able to expand our constellation and reinforces our commitment to delivering real-time data and intelligence.”

“Rapid launch with these three back-to-back missions enables BlackSky to fast-track their plans for a constellation that meets the hunger for real-time data produced by multiple images within 24 hours, rather than one image at the same time each day,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a statement.

The three launches, if they take place on the schedule Rocket Lab announced, will be the fastest cadence the company has demonstrated to date. Rocket Lab performed three Electron launches between late October and mid-December 2020.

Rocket Lab has been working on a second pad at its Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand to support a higher launch rate. Rocket Lab has yet to use that second pad and did not disclose in its statement if any of the three upcoming launches would take place from it. Rocket Lab spokesperson Murielle Baker said the first launch will take place from the existing Pad A, and that the company “is currently working through pad selection for the others.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...