Rocket Lab to launch NASA’s PREFIRE mission

Electron launching a prior mission for NASA earlier this year (Credit Rocket Lab)

NASA has announced they have selected Rocket Lab to launch their PREFIRE mission to study Earth’s climate and how the planet loses heat to space.

PREFIRE (Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment) will consist of two 6U cubesats that will be launched back to back no earlier than May 2024. The satellites will be launched from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand and inserted into a 525 km (326 miles) polar orbit that will take it over the Artic and Antarctic ice caps.

These cubesats will be the 7th and 8th missions that Rocket Lab has launched for NASA, and due to the strict mission requirements, they are the only dedicated small satellite launch company capable of rapid back-to-back launches that are needed for this mission.

The PREFIRE cubesats, once in orbit, will deploy two solar arrays each before beginning science observations. The cubesats will measure how much heat is lost through the atmosphere to space from the ice caps and help predict future ice melt, which results in rising sea levels and coastal erosion around the planet.

A render of the PREFIRE cubesats in orbit (Credit NASA JPL)

The launch contract was awarded under NASA’s VADR (Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare) launch services which are based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will manage the mission and is providing the instruments, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison will process the data collected. The main cubesats will be built by Blue Canyon Technologies.

Disclosure: Richard Angle is not an RKLB shareholder.

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Rocket Lab to launch NASA’s PREFIRE mission
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