Rocket Lab readies launch of seven satellites from New Zealand

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket lifts off its launch pad on New Zealand's Mahia peninsula. Photo Courtesy of Rocket Lab
1 of 6 | A Rocket Lab Electron rocket lifts off its launch pad on New Zealand's Mahia peninsula. Photo Courtesy of Rocket Lab

July 13 (UPI) -- California-based Rocket Lab plans to launch seven miniature satellites that will gather data on Earth's atmosphere to improve weather forecasting, replace a decommissioned technology spacecraft and send twin navigation satellites into space.

This mission, which Rocket Lab calls Baby Come Back, will involve a launch on an Electron rocket as early as Monday local time from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula.


However, the rocket company has said the launch could occur up to two weeks after the initial target date.

Rocket Lab will try to repeat recovering the first stage, which will parachute to an ocean splashdown and picked up by customized ship. The booster will then be sent to Rocket Lab's production complex for analysis and, if possible, refurbishment.

Rocket Lab lacks the technology to land a booster on a recovery ship or on land, which SpaceX has pretty much perfected. It did try twice to recover boosters in mid-air via helicopter, but neither attempt succeeded.

During the first try, the helicopter grabbed the booster, but dropped it and it fell into the sea. During a second try, a helicopter pilot called off the attempt because of a temporary telemetry data loss.


So, at least for now, Rocket Lab will be making recoveries from the ocean.

"Extensive analysis of returned stages shows that Electron withstands an ocean splashdown ...." a company statement said. "As a result, Rocket Lab is moving forward with marine operations as the primary method of recovering Electron for re-flight."

With its four CubeSat spacecraft set for launch, NASA will test so-called swarm technology -- to demonstrate how satellites can work together on diverse roles with in-space network communications and navigation between spacecraft.

Testing will include autonomous maneuvering to study how small spacecraft perform independent observations, which can support future science missions.

Twin 3U satellites provided by Virginia-based Spire Global Inc. will observe in real time how Earth's turbulent atmosphere interacts with radio waves from GPS satellites. That will make it possible to improve the accuracy of long-term weather forecasts.

A technology demonstration satellite by Canadian provider Telesat will fly to replace a decommissioned prototype and enable the company to continue service to customers of its broadband constellation of low Earth orbit satellites.


As opposed to geostationary satellites, which orbit Earth at an altitude of 22, 300 miles, low Earth orbit satellites at a few hundred miles off the planet can work as communication satellites, too.

Many of them must be used, however, because they cannot carry the large amounts of data needed to relay TV transmissions.

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