Synspective shifts launch of first satellite to Rocket Lab

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WASHINGTON — Japanese synthetic aperture radar (SAR) company Synspective announced April 14 it will launch its first satellite with Rocket Lab after initially selecting Arianespace for that mission.

Rocket Lab said it signed a contract with Synspective to launch the StriX-α SAR satellite on an Electron rocket from New Zealand in late 2020. Terms of the launch contract were not disclosed.

One year earlier, though, Synspective announced a launch contract with Arianespace for the StriX-α spacecraft. At the time, the spacecraft was slated to fly as a rideshare payload on a Vega launch in 2020. That schedule looked to be in doubt, though, because of delays caused by a Vega launch failure in July 2019. The Vega was scheduled to return to flight in March, but that mission has been delayed indefinitely after the closure of the spaceport in French Guiana by the French government due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 150-kilogram StriX-α will be the only payload on the smaller Electron rocket, giving Synspective greater control over the launch schedule and orbit for the satellite, something the companies hinted at in the Rocket Lab statement.

“We are very pleased to work with Rocket Lab, a pioneer in rocket ventures. We are also grateful for their flexibility in accepting our requests on the satellite’s orbit and launch period,” said Motoyuki Arai, founder and chief executive of Synspective.

“We understand just how important it is to have control over your orbit and your launch schedule when building out a constellation, so we’re proud to be delivering that capability to Synspective on Electron,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said. Small launch vehicle developers like Rocket Lab have long emphasized such benefits of dedicated launches versus flying smallsats as rideshares on larger launch vehicles.

A Synspective spokesperson said in an April 14 email that the company had a good relationship with Arianespace, but decided to move StriX-α to Rocket Lab “as a result of adjusting the launch timing and the orbit of the satellite.” The company expects to use the Arianespace contract for the launch of a future satellite instead.

StriX-α will be the first in a constellation of about 25 SAR satellites that Synspective plans to launch over the next several years to provide geospatial data products. The company said in July 2019 it has raised $100 million since the company’s formation 17 months earlier.