Rocket Lab to launch classified payload for the NRO

Electron awaiting launch from Wallops Island (Credit Rocket Lab/Brady Kenniston)

Rocket Lab is gearing up for its next mission, Live & Let Fly, no earlier than Thursday, March 21st.

The mission will take place from Launch Complex 2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. This will be Rocket Lab’s fourth launch from its Virginia pad, previously launching HASTE, a suborbital variant of Electron.

The customer for this mission is the National Reconnaissance Office, which is utilizing Rocket Lab’s U.S. launch pad for the first time. The mission, named NROL-123, will remain classified, but satellite watchers are usually able to track down the payloads within days of launch to determine the orbits in which these secret payloads are placed.

This will be Rocket Lab’s fourth launch of the year. The company most recently launched the ‘Owl Night Long’ mission for Synspective on March 12th. The company looks to continue its recent successes and mark its fifth flight in a row after a mishap during its ‘We Will Never Desert You’ mission in September 2023.

Overall, Rocket Lab has attempted launching 45 times so far, with 41 successes. After each mishap, the company has come back stronger and is now well into its first-stage recovery program. It has reflown its Rutherford engines multiple times and recovered multiple first stages as it gets closer to reflying an entire Electron for the first time.

During Rocket Lab’s Q3 results, the company revealed that it will attempt recoveries at least nine times out of the 22 missions planned for 2024. Of course, Rocket Lab could still change this and attempt to recover more first stages, as it did last year.

While Rocket Lab is increasing its Electron launch cadence, it is also continuing work on its Neutron rocket, which will be capable of lifting much larger payloads to orbit and is intended to be re-usable beginning with its first flight. Peter Beck, CEO and Founder, said during the Q4 earnings call that they aimed to complete their Stennis test stand by the end of March and test fire their new Archimedes engine soon after.

Beck also mentioned they could launch Neutron by the end of the year if all testing goes smoothly.

Disclosure: Richard Angle is not an RKLB shareholder.

Questions or comments? How do you think Rocket Lab will do in 2024? Shoot me an email at, or Tweet me @RDAnglePhoto.

Rocket Lab to launch classified payload for the NRO
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