June 10 (UPI) -- A rocket launch planned in New Zealand early Thursday morning is to propel five small satellites into orbit, including a Boston University experiment to measure solar winds and the Earth's magnetosphere.
California-based Rocket Labs, which owns the New Zealand launch site, is scheduled to send the satellites into orbit aboard the company's Electron rocket at 12:43 a.m. EDT from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula. The launch could occur as late as 2:32 a.m. if delays happen.
Boston University's experiment, the ANDESITE CubeSat, consists of one satellite the size of a toaster oven that is carrying eight tiny satellites inside. They will be released to form a network that relays data to the small mothership.
The project aims to gain a better understanding of how solar winds change the environment in space near Earth, said Joshua Semeter, professor of engineering at Boston University.
"Our world that we live in is surrounded by this shroud of plasma. It interacts with the buffeting solar wind, and produces this really dynamic and rich set of physical consequences," Semester said in a presentation about ANDESITE.
He said sensors on the ground will record conditions in the sky as the ANDESITE network flies over the northern pole regions where the aurora borealis is common.
Because the mission also carries spy satellites for the U.S. government, the company declined to reveal the orbit altitude of the mission. Aurora borealis occurs at altitudes of about 75 miles to 110 miles up.
The experiment is part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, which promotes the use of small satellites for new space science experiments.
The mission will carry three payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees the nation's spy satellites for intelligence agencies, as well as the M2 Pathfinder communications satellite for the University of New South Wales and the Australian government.
Rocket Lab has named the mission 'Don't Stop Me Now', which was delayed in May due to travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's the 12th mission launch of an Electron rocket, which is considered a small vehicle with about 34,000 pounds of thrust on liftoff. By comparison, SpaceX's Falcon 9 is capable of 1.7 million pounds of thrust on liftoff.
The mission will not include any testing or development for Rocket Lab's efforts to make the first-stage booster reusable, as several recent launches have done.