On Jan. 21, Rocket Lab successfully reached orbit with the test flight of its second Electron orbital launch vehicle known as “Still Testing.” The rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab’s launch complex on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand, marking the first successful commercial space launch in the Southern Hemisphere.
Following successful first and second stage burns, Electron reached orbit and deployed customer payloads at 8 minutes and 31 seconds after lift-off.
“Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented,” said Rocket Lab CEO and Founder Peter Beck.
Rocket Lab’s launch vehicle features an all-composite payload fairing that is manufactured and design in-house. The company has also developed CFRP composite tanks that are compatible with liquid oxygen, providing a great deal of weight savings.
Two days after the launch, Rocket Lab reported it had successfully tested a previously unannounced kick stage on the Still Testing vehicle, using it to circularize the orbits of the two Spire Lemur-2 CubeSats on board.
“Until now many small satellite operators have had to compromise on optimal orbits in order to reach space at an accessible cost. The kick stage releases small satellites from the constricting parameters of primary payload orbits and enables them to full reach their potential, including faster deployment of small satellite constellations and better positioning for Earth imaging,” Beck says.
In addition to the CubeSats, the “Still Testing” vehicle’s payload included a special geodesic sphere called the “Humanity Star.” Rocket Lab describes the sphere as “a highly reflective satellite that blinks brightly across the night sky to create a shared experience for everyone on the planet.” The Humanity Star stands 1 meter tall, features 65 reflective panels and is made with copious amounts of CFRP.
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