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Rocket Lab’s tiny Electron rocket set for fifth New Zealand launch this year

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is captured at liftoff from LC-1 in New Zealand. (Rocket Lab)

Nicknamed “In Focus,” the fifteenth overall launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is set to liftoff on Wednesday, October 21 from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Electron’s next rideshare mission will deploy ten satellites to a circular 500km Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

The “In Focus” mission nickname is a nod to the rideshare payload of ten Earth-imaging satellites for multiple customers. Onboard Electron is nine SuperDove satellites for Earth-imaging service provider Planet and a Earth-image microsatellite for Canon Electronics Inc. procured by mission management provider Spaceflight Inc.

Rocket Lab’s fifteenth mission rideshare payload of ten small satellites for customers Planet and Canon Electronics Inc. is pictured prior to encapsulation into the protective payload fairing of the Electron rocket at Rocket Lab’s payload processing facility. (Rocket Lab)

Nine more SuperDoves join the flock

The nine Flock 4e SuperDove satellites will join Planet’s constellation of satellites already in orbit to continue to provide medium-resolution global coverage earth-imaging services. The latest generation batch of satellites is slated to launch after a previous payload of five was lost when the thirteenth launch of Rocket Lab’s Electron failed during second-stage flight. The satellites were destroyed during re-entry after the Electron’s Kick Stage failed to ignite and propel the payload to the intended orbit.

Planet’s nine Flock 4E SuperDove satellites are pictured in a Rocket Lab payload processing facility ahead of being integrated with the Rocket Lab Maxwell small satellite dispensers. (Rocket Lab)

Planet is the operator of the world’s current largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites. According to Planet, imaging data provided by near-daily global observations “enables researchers, students, businesses and governments to discover patterns, detect early signals of change, and make timely, informed decisions.”

Readily available satellite imagery data provided by the largest Earth-imaging constellation enables rapid response in the instance of catastrophic widespread events such forest fires, explosions, and even oil spills. Planet makes the regularly updated disaster imagery data available to various registered organizations through an online imagery browser, Planet Explorer.

Satellite imagery data can also be used to monitor development. The construction progress of Elon Musk’s Tesla Gigafactory Berlin located in Germany has been seen from above by Planet’s Skysat. The progress of the production facility is evidenced by the addition of infrastructure and building foundations from April to August of 2020.

Satellite imagery data captured by Planet’s satellite Skysat is compared side by side detailing production facility development of Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin in Brandenburg, Germany. (Original Image credit: Planet)

Microsatellite features cameras with major punch

Canon Electronics Inc.’s CE-SAT-IIB technical demonstration microsatellite is equipped with a mid-sized telescope outfitted with three kinds of highly sensitive cameras. The satellite will demonstrate the capabilities of the Cassegrain reflectors and ability to take images of the Earth, even at night, with Canon’s mirrorless and compact digital cameras. The demonstration is designed to last 2 years.

The CE-SAT-IIB satellite is Canon Electronics Inc.’s third Earth-imaging microsatellite. The first, CE-SAT-1, was launched aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in 2017 by the Indian Space Research Organisation. The second satellite, CE-SAT-IB was unfortunately lost during the same Rocket Lab mission failure that resulted in the loss of the five Planet SuperDove satellites.

The Canon Electronics Inc. CE-SAT-IIB microsatellite is pictured before integration and encapsulation at Rocket Lab’s payload processing facility. (Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab will broadcast a hosted webcast of Electron’s fifteenth mission from New Zealand on Wednesday, October 21 about fifteen minutes before the nearly hour-long launch window extending from 5:14-6:03 p.m. EDT (2114-2203 UTC). Should the launch attempt be delayed Rocket Lab has back up launch opportunities daily until Tuesday, November 3.

Rocket Lab’s tiny Electron rocket set for fifth New Zealand launch this year
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