In another feather in the cap for the New Zealand-based startup, Rocket Lab has successfully pulled off its first launch for DARPA, delivering an experimental satellite into orbit that the agency hopes will open up new possibilities around radio communication.
The launch was Rocket Lab's first for 2019, but the company has been making some important advances in the last six months. November saw it put aside a string of technical troubles and deliver six customer satellites into orbit, which it then followed up with a first-of-a-kind mission under NASA's Venture Class Launch Services program.
Lifting off from the company's launch complex on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, today's mission for DARPA is further validation for a space company that only arrived on the scene in 2013. Using its Electron booster that incorporates nine Rutherford engines, Rocket Lab was able to safely insert a 150-kg (330-lb) satellite into orbit for DARPA that is designed to test out a new kind of membrane reflective-array antenna.
This Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2) payload consisted of tissue-thin Kapton membranes that were packed up tightly for launch and now, in low Earth orbit, will unfurl to a diameter of 2.25 m (7.3 ft). In a mission descriptions, Rocket Lab says R3D2 is intended to "space-qualify a prototype reflect array antenna to improve radio communications in small spacecraft."
And this is the first of quite a few missions for Rocket Lab in 2019, if the company's lofty ambitions are to be believed. It has previously said this would be the first of monthly launches across the year, though given it was originally scheduled for late February only time will tell how that affects its plans.
More broadly, Rocket Lab hopes to improve access to space by producing one of its Electron boosters every week at its new rocket factory, thanks in part to the fact that its primary components can be 3D printed.
You can check out the webcast of today's launch below.
Source: Rocket Lab (Twitter)
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