Rocket Lab “In Focus” mission ready to launch after scrubbed first attempt

On Wednesday, October 21, Rocket Lab held a launch countdown ahead of the fifteenth mission of its small rocket, Electron. The mission nicknamed “In Focus,” was slated to take off from the company’s primary launch pad at Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Ultimately, the launch attempt was scrubbed due to an off-nominal oxygen sensor.

Rocket Lab did not immediately disclose a new targeted launch date, but did state that the launch window for the “In Focus” mission extended for nearly two-weeks. Rocket Lab founder and chief executive officer, Peter Beck, said in a Twitter post that, “the team’s taking the time to make sure it’s just the sensor and nothing else.” Beck also stated that weather moving into the area could pose a challenge for finding a new acceptable launch date.

Just two days later, Rocket Lab announced that a second launch attempt of the rideshare mission supporting ten Earth-observation satellites would occur at 5:14pm EDT (21:14 UTC) Wednesday, October 28. Should the second attempt be thwarted by uncooperative weather, daily opportunities to launch Electron are available until November 3.

What’s on board:

The fifteenth overall flight of Electron and fifth mission of 2020, is a rideshare mission that supports payloads for Canon Electronics Inc. and Earth-imaging services provider Planet. The payload, carefully mounted on the Rocket Lab Electron Kick Stage, consists of one nine SuperDove Flock 4e Planet microsatellites inside of Rocket Lab’s protective Maxwell payload dispensers. The entire stack is topped by Canon Electronics Inc.’s CE-SAT-IIB satellite procured by mission management provider Spaceflight Inc. All ten payloads are securely fixed atop the Electron Kick Stage.

The payload of Rocket Lab’s fifteenth Electron mission nicknamed “In Focus,” is photographed during final integration prior to being encapsulated inside of the protective payload fairing. (Rocket Lab)

The Electron Kick Stage – a capable extra stage on Electron – is designed to circularize orbits and deploy multiple payloads to independent and precise destinations. The Kick Stage is powered by a small, but powerful Curie engine. All ten of the satellite payloads aboard the “In Focus” mission are expected to be delivered to a 500km morning-crossing Sun Synchronous Orbit.

Prior to flight, the payload was encapsulated inside of the Electron’s protective payload fairing. In traditional fashion, Rocket Lab outfitted the fairing with the mission patch artwork created specifically for Electron’s fifteenth “In Focus” mission.

The Rocket Lab Electron protective payload fairing is pictured during final encapsulation ahead of the first launch attempt the the fifteenth mission, “In Focus.” (Rocket Lab)

After encapsulation inside the fairing, the payload was integrated with the Electron first-stage booster. After a short trip from the assembly facility, Electron was raised vertically at Launch Complex 1 to complete a successful wet dress rehearsal – a standard pre-flight run-through of all launch procedures. The purpose of the wet dress rehearsal is to run through all of the launch day procedures including filling the rocket with RP-1 – a rocket grade kerosene – and liquid oxygen.

Launch teams conducted the practice launch on Thursday, October 8 proceeding through all countdown milestones right up until T-0 and engine ignition. This process ensures that the vehicle and launch teams are ready for flight. It also provides an opportunity to catch and address any anomalies that may arise prior to launch day.

The fully fueled Rocket Lab Electron rocket is pictured in screen capture of the first launch attempt of the “In Focus” mission on October 21, 2020. (Rocket Lab)

What to expect on launch day:

Approximately four hours ahead of the launch attempt Rocket Lab will once again return Electron to vertical launching position at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. In the time prior to the fueling of the rocket, safety checks of the launch complex will be conducted and marine hazard zones and airspace will be closed and secured to all traffic. Fueling of the rocket will begin just two hours ahead of the launch attempt.

A mission profile provided by Rocket Lab outlines the various mission milestones of Electron’s fifteenth mission, “In Focus.” (Rocket Lab)

At T-0 Electron will be propelled to space by nine 3D-printed Rutherford electro-turbopump engines. Approximately 2 minutes and 34 seconds after liftoff Electron’s first stage will separate while the second stage engine ignites. Unique to the Electron, a “hot swap” of the batteries powering the electro-turbopump of the second stage will be performed – swapping out the power source of expelled batteries with new ones – at 6 minutes and 32 seconds after liftoff. The second stage is expected to arrive at an initial parking orbit approximately 8 minutes and 54 seconds after liftoff.

A brief ten seconds later the Kick Stage will separate from the second stage. Approximately 51 minutes and 06 seconds after liftoff the Kick Stage’s Curie engine will ignite to propel the payloads to their final circular Sun-Synchronous Orbits. Payload deployment is expected at the 60-minute mark after liftoff.

Rocket Lab will provide a live hosted webcast of the second launch attempt of the “In Focus” mission on Wednesday, October 28 on the company’s YouTube channel approximately fifteen minutes before liftoff. Should a scrub occur, Rocket Lab will announce a new targeted launch date on the company’s social media channels.

Jamie Groh: Space Reporter.
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