NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Rocket Lab will deploy an entire constellation of internet-of-things satellites for a French startup under a multi-launch deal announced Sept. 8.
Rocket Lab said it will launch 25 satellites for Kinéis over five dedicated launches starting in the second quarter of 2023. The satellites will provide improved global IoT connectivity services for the company, which is backed by private investors and the French space agency CNES, and which raised 100 million euros in early 2020 to develop the constellation.
“We are glad to entrust our constellation of 25 satellites to Rocket Lab,” Alexandre Tisserant, chief executive of Kinéis, said in a statement. He called Rocket Lab “the obvious choice as launch partner to activate our constellation at such a pace.”
Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a recent phone interview that the schedule for deploying the full constellation will depend on when the satellites are ready. “It’s a constellation so the customer usually wants to get them up quick,” he said. “Our launch cadence is dictated by our customers’ willingness and ability to deliver the spacecraft.”
The companies did not disclose the value of the launch contract. Beck said there’s “some discount” for bulk buys like this versus purchases of individual launches.
The Kinéis deal is the second multi-launch contract for a constellation Rocket Lab has announced this year. In March, Rocket Lab announced a contract covering launches of eight BlackSky imaging satellites, arranged through Rocket Lab.
“We are creating the market. We are the go-to guys for small constellation deployment,” Beck said. He called Kinéis a “very sophisticated customer” with requirements for placing the satellites into specific orbital planes at altitudes of 650 kilometers, which will be handled by Electron’s kick stage. “The orbital accuracy required for this particular constellation is incredibly tight. It’s only through the kick stage and Electron’s high accuracy that we’re able to deliver for this customer.”
Beck said that the BlackSky and Kinéis contracts are a validation of the size of the Electron as some larger vehicles, with payload capacities of about one metric ton, enter the market. “The one-ton class, I don’t see how it fits,” he said. “It’s too large to do these kinds of dedicated launches that we do all the time, and too small to be a viable rideshare against the Falcon 9.”
“From day one, we’ve been very analytical and very brutal about what we think the size should be,” he said of Electron, which can place up to 300 kilograms into low Earth orbit. “We must have done something right, because we’re busy as heck.”
Rocket Lab had planned to begin a series of three consecutive Electron launches of BlackSky satellites in late August. That has been delayed, Beck said, by COVID restrictions in New Zealand, including a lockdown in Auckland. “The pandemic has reared its head, so it make it very difficult to conduct launch operations,” he said.