Rocket Lab prepares for next launch, moves closer to Electron reusability

Rocket Lab is readying for its next launch no earlier than April 24th from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The mission, Beginning of the Swarm, will feature two payloads being deployed to completely different orbits.

The primary payload for this mission, NEONSAT-1, is for the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Satellite Technology Research Center and is an Earth observation satellite with a high-resolution camera to help monitor the Korean peninsula during natural disasters. This will be the first of an 11-satellite constellation for the country.

NEONSAT-1 will be deployed into a 520km circular Earth orbit.

The secondary payload is NASA’s Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, or ACS3. This cubesat is meant to test new materials used on deployable booms that will hold a solar sail. Once fully unfurled, it will measure approximately 30 feet per side.

ACS3 will be deployed into a 1000km circular Earth orbit after Rocket Lab’s Curie kick stage performs an orbit-raising maneuver and then once deployed, the kick stage will ignite once more to lower its orbit to ensure a quicker re-entry into the atmosphere and not turn into space debris.

Rocket Lab moves closer to first stage re-usability

The Electron that flew the Four of a Kind mission could be the first to fly again (Credit Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab announced today at the Space Symposium in Colorado that they have brought a previously flown Electron first stage back into the production line.

The first-stage tank has already undergone extensive testing, including holding excess pressure for more than 20x a normal flight duration, leak checks, and structural testing, which allowed it to re-enter the production line.

This specific first stage flew the Four of a Kind Mission on January 31st. Rocket Lab did not indicate if any of the Rutherford engines that flew on that mission will be re-used or if they will be all new. The company has also yet to disclose which payload will be launched using the flight-proven first stage.

Rocket Lab is certainly making strides towards full first-stage reusability on Electron and also gathering valuable data that will help them recover Neutron, their future medium-lift rocket.

Do you think Rocket Lab will be flying re-used Electron stages frequently by the end of this year, or could they run into issues as they progress towards that goal?

Disclosure: Richard Angle is not an RKLB shareholder.

Questions or comments? Shoot me an email at, or Tweet me @RDAnglePhoto.

Richard Angle: Launch journalist, specializing in launch photography. Based on the Space Coast, a short drive from Cape Canaveral and the SpaceX launch pads.
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