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4.11.2020

Rocket lab to launch student-built 'waka' satellite in 'most diverse mission yet'

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New Zealand-founded space company Rocket Lab’s next mission will carry 30 payloads into orbit including a “waka” satellite made by New Zealand students who are trying to predict earthquakes.

The mission will lift-off from Rocket Lab’s launch site on the Māhia Peninsula during a 14-day launch window that opens on November 16. It will be Rocket Lab’s sixteenth launch using its 18-metre rocket called Electron.

The satellites belong to customers including Te Pūnaha Ātea - Auckland Space Institute, TriSept, Unseenlabs, Swarm Technologies, and Gabe Newell, co-founder of global gaming software company Valve.

The satellites will ride on Electron but each will be deployed to a unique orbit, about 500 kilometres altitude, courtesy of Rocket Lab’s Kick Stage.

The Kick Stage is designed to deliver small satellites to precise orbits, before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up.

Once Electron reaches orbit, the Kick Stage separates and conducts the final leg of the journey. It uses a cold gas reaction to position itself and deploy satellites.

After all payloads are deployed, the Kick Stage reignites its engine one last time to perform a “de-orbit manoeuvre”.

Kick Stage’s ability to burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere is touted as a solution to the increasing problem of mounting space junk, an issue which came to the fore last month when two large pieces of space debris came uncomfortably close to colliding.

Such an event could create tens of thousands of pieces of debris that could litter space for decades, if not centuries, making it harder to send objects into orbit.

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck said he was excited to provide tailored orbits for satellites on the mission.

“It’s why we created the Kick Stage to enable custom orbits on every mission, and eliminate the added complexity, time, and cost of having to develop your own spacecraft propulsion or using a third-party space tug.”

One of the payloads, the Waka Āmiorangi Aotearoa APSS-1 satellite, was built by University of Auckland student at Te Pūnaha Ātea - Auckland Space Institute.

It is designed to monitor electrical activity in Earth’s upper atmosphere to test whether ionospheric disturbances might be linked to earthquakes.

The data from the mission will deliver deeper knowledge of hard-to-access altitudes and drive understanding of how phenomena such as solar wind and geophysical events affect atmosphere.

A “mass simulator” will also be fixed to this mission’s Kick Stage in the form of a 3D printed garden gnome created for video game developer Gabe Newell’s company Valve.

Mass simulators are used to test various configurations and basic size, load, and handling characteristics of rocket launch vehicles, according to Wikipedia.

The mission aimed to test and qualify a novel 3D printing technique that could be employed for future spacecraft components, Rocket Lab said.

It also served as a “homage to the innovation and creativity of gamers worldwide”, it said.

The titanium gnome was created by Weta Workshop and was intended ot replicate a character called Gnome Chompski in Valve’s Half-Life video game.

The 150mm gnome will remain attached to the Kick Stage throughout the mission and will burn up upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

For every person who watches the launch online, Newell will donate $1 to Starship Children’s Hospital paediatric intensive care unit.

Quelle:stuff

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Update: 6.11.2020

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Rocket Lab to attempt Electron stage recovery on next launch

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WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab will try to recover the first stage of its Electron rocket on its next launch as the company continues its efforts to reuse that stage.

The company announced Nov. 5 that its next Electron launch, scheduled for Nov. 15 (U.S. time) from New Zealand, will include the first attempt by the company to recover the rocket’s first stage. After stage separation, the first stage will reorient itself for reentry, then deploy a drogue parachute and a larger main parachute before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean about 400 kilometers from the launch site.

Rocket Lab has tested elements of its recovery system before, including two launches where the first stage survived reentry all the way to the surface. The company has separately tested the parachute system. This launch, though, will be the first time the parachutes are deployed.

“This is an all-up combined test, a conclusion of a number of tests that we’ve been doing,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a call with reporters. “We’ll look forward to seeing really what we’ve got.”

While the company has tested individual parts of the recovery process, Beck said this will be the first chance to see how it is all integrated. “There’s still a lot of unknowns here,” he said. “This is a test where all of the elements come together and, of course, they all have to work together as well. The parachutes are no good if the stage is coming in backwards.”

Asked what made him the most nervous about this test, he responded, “All of it.” While individual parts of this have been tested, putting it all together creates uncertainties. “I’ll stop being nervous once we get it back in the factory.”

If all goes as planned, the stage will splash down at a speed of about 10 meters per second. Two boats will be in the recovery zone to retrieve the stage for later analysis. Weather conditions at the recovery area will be an additional issue for launch, but Beck minimized those concerns. “It’s going to have to be pretty sloppy weather downrange before we won’t go,” he said.

Being able to recover the stage is a major step for Rocket Lab’s reuse plans, but not the final one. Once recovered, Beck said engineers will closely study it to determine what needs to be refurbished or replaced to put the stage back into condition for a launch. “We don’t know the condition of the stage structurally as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere,” he said. “It may be compromised, for all we know.”

Rocket Lab announced its intent to recover and reuse first stages in August 2019. Beck said he was driven to pursue reusability, which he originally dismissed as infeasible for a small launch vehicle like Electron, to help the company increase its launch rate without having to also scale up its manufacturing facilities.

That remains the key driver for Electron reuse. “Even if we get to use the stage just another single time, it has the effect of effectively doubling production,” he said. “Even one reuse is a really huge advantage.”

The upcoming launch won’t test one other aspect of Rocket Lab’s reusability plans: catching the descending stage in midair using a helicopter. While the company has tested helicopter recovery in drop tests earlier this year, Beck said they want to first know the condition of the stage, as well as ensure they can “passivate,” or remove any remaining energy sources, from it before attempting a helicopter test.

“We’re going to do a few of these splashdowns first,” he said. “If we’ve got a stage in just awesome condition, and everything functioned as we expected and everything was really safe, then we’ll move really quickly to try and snatch one with a helicopter.”

The recovery attempt is a secondary objective of the launch, dubbed “Return to Sender” by Rocket Lab. The primary mission is to place 30 payloads into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit, 24 of which are Spacebee satellites for Swarm Technologies. Others include payloads for Unseenlabs, a French company developing a constellation of satellites for radio-frequency tracking; DRAGRACER, a satellite that will test the use of a tether for deorbiting; and a satellite built by New Zealand students to study the upper atmosphere.

The Electron’s kick stage will also carry a mass simulator in the form of a 3D-printed gnome funded by Gabe Newell, founder of Valve Software, whose “Half-Life” series of games included a character called “Gnome Chompski.” The mass simulator is also designed to test the use of a metal 3D-printing technology that could be used for future satellites.

Quelle: SN

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Update: 11.11.2020

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Rocket Lab’s first step towards SpaceX-style rocket reuse set for next Electron launch

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Just over a year ago, Rocket Lab announced intentions to recover the first-stage of its small Electron launch vehicle, potentially making it the second private company on Earth – after SpaceX – to attempt to recover and reuse an orbital-class rocket.

In a media call earlier this week, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck, revealed that the first recovery attempt has been expedited to mid-November and will occur following the next flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

A glimpse of the Electron booster of the “Return to Sender” sixteenth mission that Rocket Lab intends to recover fully intact. (Rocket Lab)
A glimpse of the Rocket Lab Electron booster of the “Return to Sender” sixteenth mission that Rocket Lab intends to recover fully intact. (Rocket Lab)

Like competitor SpaceX, Rocket Lab aims to recover its first stage Electron booster to decrease production time and increase launch cadence. Rocket Lab now has three launchpads to launch from and is licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to carry out up to 130 launches per calendar year. In order to increase the launch cadence of the Electron, production times need to decrease. This can effectively be accomplished with the recovery, refurbishment, and reuse of the small, carbon composite rocket booster.

RECOVERY DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT

Initially, the first step of recovering an expended first stage – a guided and controlled soft water landing under a parachute and retrieval by sea-vessel – was intended for the seventeenth launch of the Electron prior to the end of this calendar year. However, Rocket Lab is now targeting the sixteenth launch for the first recovery attempt, a mission appropriately nicknamed “Return to Sender.” When asked what prompted the move to an earlier launch, Beck stated to reporters, “the guys got it done in time. With a new development like this, it’s always very dependent on how the program runs and the program ran very successfully.”

Rocket Lab has been working toward this recovery attempt for quite some time. In late 2018, Rocket Lab began collecting data during launches to inform future recovery efforts and determine whether or not it would even be feasible with a small-class rocket. The first major block upgrade of the Electron booster debuted on the tenth flight, “Running Out of Fingers,” in December 2019.

The first recovery milestone, a task Beck called getting through “the wall,” was achieved following the tenth flight. And again in January 2020 following a successful eleventh flight of Electron. The “wall” Beck refers to is the Earth’s atmosphere. Returning a booster through the atmosphere intact requires extreme precision in terms of re-entry orientation and how efficient the heat shield is.

Because the Electron is a small-class rocket, Rocket Lab was able to collect enough data from previous flights to determine that the carbon composite frame could withstand a fall through the atmosphere given a precise enough angle of attack to sufficiently distribute thermal loads. According to Beck, the process is referred to as an “aero thermal decelerator.”

Rocket Lab’s first Electron booster to be outfitted with cold gas attitude control thrusters debuted in December 2019 during the first test of getting through “the wall.” (Rocket Lab)

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Following in SpaceX’s footsteps, Rocket Lab wants to become the second company in the world to reuse orbital-class rocket boosters. (USAF/Rocket Lab)

SMALL ROCKET FOLLOWING IN BIG FOOTSTEPS

SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company pioneered booster landing, recovery, and reuse efforts when the first Falcon 9 booster to successfully land returned to Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on December 21, 2015. SpaceX approaches the process of booster re-entry in a different way than what Rocket Lab has decided to attempt with Electron.

The Falcon 9 boosters perform a re-orientation flip and use the engines to perform what is known as a boost-back burn to set the rocket on the path to return to the Earth’s surface. The rocket then autonomously deploys titanium grid-fins that essentially steer, and slow the booster down as it falls through the atmosphere. Finally, the engines are re-ignited during a series of burns, and landing legs are deployed to propulsively land either at sea aboard an autonomous spaceport droneship or back on land at a landing zone.

The booster of Rocket Lab’s tenth mission in 2019 was outfitted with guidance and navigation hardware and cold gas attitude control thrusters used to flip and orient the booster to withstand the stresses of re-entry. Otherwise, no other hardware was incorporated to reduce the stresses of re-entry or slow the vehicle as it fell through the atmosphere. The booster made it through “the wall” intact and eventually slowed to a rate less than 900km per hour by the time it reached sea-level for an expected impact.

Eventually, Rocket Lab imagines its small Electron booster to be caught during a controlled descent under parachute canopy with a specially equipped helicopter and grappling hook. Beck and his team spent weeks outfitting a test article with prototype parachutes that were manufactured in-house.

A low-altitude drop test of a test article to simulate an Electron first stage was performed and a helicopter was able to snag the test article mid-air and deliver it one piece. Essentially, this proved that the concept was at least feasible and the small-class rocket could in fact be fully recovered to eventually be refurbished and reused. Since the completion of this drop test in April of 2020, the parachute design has been reevaluated and many more drop tests have been conducted. The final drop test with a more traditional system of a drogue parachute and an 18m ringsail type main parachute occurred in August of 2020 with a first stage simulator.

Next up, Rocket Lab plans to use the finalized design of the parachute system to bring Electron home safely for a soft landing in the Pacific Ocean. After which the booster will be collected by a recovery vessel, similar to the process that SpaceX uses to scoop its payload fairings from the water.

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The Rocket Lab Electron first stage booster intended for the sixteenth flight, “Return to Sender,” is seen being outfitted with parachute systems inside of the specially designated white interstage on the factory floor in Auckland, New Zealand. (Rocket Lab)

“Bringing a whole first stage back intact is the ultimate goal, but success for this mission is really about gaining more data, particularly on the drogue and parachute deployment system,” said Beck. With the parachute system verified the teams should be able to make any further iterations for a full capture and recovery effort on a future mission relatively quickly.

Rocket Lab will try to fully recover the “Return to Sender” expended first-stage booster once it separates approximately two and a half minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Penninsula of New Zealand. Electron will support a rideshare payload of thirty smallsats. The window to launch the sixteenth Electron mission opens on  November 16 UTC (November 15 PT / ET). A hosted live webcast of the launch and recovery attempt will be provided on the company website approximately fifteen minutes prior to liftoff.

Quelle: TESLARATI
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Update: 20.11.2020
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Rocket Lab recovers booster after launch with 30 small satellites

Rocket Lab says the first stage of its Electron launcher splashed down under parachute in the Pacific Ocean off New Zealand after firing into space with 30 small satellites Thursday, becoming only the second private company to return an orbital-class booster to Earth intact.

Suspended under a circular parachute, the carbon composite booster stage descended to a splashdown a few hundred miles downrange from Rocket Lab’s launch base in New Zealand, according to Rocket Lab.

A recovery team stationed in the Pacific Ocean moved in to secure the booster before hoisting it onto a vessel for the journey back to New Zealand for inspections.

The successful splashdown of the Electron’s first stage moved California-based Rocket Lab closer to reusing rocket boosters, which the company says will allow it to launch missions at a faster cadence, and potentially cut costs.

“What the team achieved today in recovering Electron’s first stage is no mean feat,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder and CEO, in a statement. “It took a monumental effort from many teams across Rocket Lab, and it’s exciting to see that work pay off in a major step towards making Electron a reusable rocket.”

Rocket Lab intends to eventually use a helicopter to snare rocket stages descending under parachutes in mid-air, eliminating contamination from sea water. But Beck said before the launch that Rocket Lab would initially try recovering Electron boosters from the sea.

Designed to haul small satellites into orbit, the privately-developed Electron rocket has flown 16 times, including Thursday’s mission. Late last year and early this year, Rocket Lab instrumented Electron boosters to study the heating, aerodynamic, and structural loads they encounter during re-entry.

But this launch, which Rocket Lab nicknamed “Return to Sender” in a nod to the recovery attempt, was the first time an Electron rocket flew with parachutes to attempt a full series of descent maneuvers.

The mission began with a liftoff from Rocket Lab’s private spaceport on Mahia Peninsula, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, at 9:20:01 p.m. EST Thursday (0220:01 GMT; 3:20:01 p.m. New Zealand time Friday).

Nine kerosene Rutherford engines on the Electron first stage propelled the nearly 60-foot-tall (18-meter) rocket toward the south from the launch base. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage shut down its engines and separated at an altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers) freeing the Electron’s second stage to ignite a single engine to continue flying into orbit.

Meanwhile, thrusters on the first stage flipped the 40-foot-long (12-meter) booster around 180 degrees to fly engines first, configuring the rocket for re-entry back into the atmosphere. After coasting to an apogee, or high point, of its trajectory near the edge of space, the booster began falling back toward the Pacific Ocean.

After plunging into the thick, lower layers of the atmosphere — “hitting the wall,” as Beck calls it — the booster deployed a pilot parachute, a drogue chute, and then a circular main chute as designed. The main parachute slowed the rocket for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Beck tweeted a photo from a upward-facing camera an-board the Electron booster, writing that the image was his new favorite for 2020.

Officials said before the mission that the parachute system is designed to slow the rocket’s descent to about 10 meters per second, or 22 mph. Beck said before the mission that the company did not expect any significant damage to the rocket from the splashdown, “other than everything getting wet.”

Rocket Lab’s live video stream from the booster cut out as it began re-entry, but the company quickly confirmed that the rocket unfurled its parachutes and reached the sea as designed. The company said early Friday it will release photos and video of the recovery process as soon as possible.

Rocket Lab’s offshore team planned to place flotation aids around the booster, then install a collar before lifting the rocket by crane onto the recovery ship.

Engineers are eager to inspect the rocket once it’s back in Rocket Lab’s factory.

“Once we get it back into the factory, it’s like a CSI really,” Beck said in a conference call with reporters earlier this month. “We’ll pull it all apart and really dig into how well each of the components and the sub-assemblies performed. It’ll be a very time-consuming process to go back and see what we’ve got.”

Beck said the company is taking an incremental approach to proving out its ability to recover and reuse Electron rocket boosters. Engineers want to see how well the booster survives re-entry, and it’s likely Rocket Lab will try several water splashdowns before attempting a mid-air recovery for the first time.

“If we’ve got a smoldering stump, then there’s really not much point in catching a smoldering stump with a helicopter,” Beck said earlier this month.

Rocket Lab aims to become the second commercial rocket company to recover and reuse orbital-class boosters. SpaceX landed its first Falcon 9 booster in 2015, and began re-flying Falcon 9 rockets in 2017.

SpaceX uses cold gas thrusters to re-orient its Falcon 9 first stages, then reignites a subset of the Falcon 9’s Merlin engines to slow down for propulsive landings, using thrust and grid fins to steer it back to a drone ship at sea or toward an onshore recovery site.

Rocket Lab also uses cold gas thrusters on its booster, but the company is taking a different approach for recovery.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is much larger than Rocket Lab’s Electron vehicle, with enough performance margin for engineers to reserve propellant for propulsive landing maneuvers during mid-air restarts of the Falcon 9’s main engines.

That won’t work for smaller satellite launchers like the Electron, which needs all of its propellant to place payloads into orbit.

Beck said the addition of recovery hardware takes away about 7.5% of the Electron rocket’s overall launch capacity to sun-synchronous orbit. SpaceX takes a bigger performance hit by percentage when it lands a Falcon 9 booster.

SpaceX initially tried using parachutes to recover its Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 boosters, but those attempts didn’t work. The company eventually switched to a design for vertical landings of the Falcon boosters on floating ships in the ocean, or at an onshore landing site near the launch pad.

The main goal of the Rocket Lab’s reuse program is to increase the company’s launch rate, but Beck said the initiative could also cut prices lower than the company’s already low figures.

“We’ve seen the cost of dedicated small launch come from anywhere from $50 million to $30 million for a Pegasus or a Minotaur (rocket) down to $7 million for a Rocket Lab vehicle,” Beck said.

If Rocket Lab is successful with reusing its boosters, “I think we’ll see a dramatic change in pricing again,” Beck said.

 

While the first stage parachuted into the Pacific Ocean, the Electron’s second stage deployed the mission’s 30 payloads and kick stage into a preliminary transfer orbit. Within an hour of launch, the kick stage reignited to place the small payloads into a near-circular 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) orbit.

Two of the spacecraft on the Electron launch were built by Millennium Space Systems, a subsidiary of Boeing, for a mission named DragRacer to test a drag-inducing device that could help small satellites in low Earth orbit naturally decay, or re-enter the atmosphere.

One satellite — named Alchemy — will extend a 230-foot-long (70-meter) electrically conductive tether, a device designed to increase the surface area of the spacecraft, allowing it to succumb to aerodynamic drag, re-enter the atmosphere, and burn up.

Both DragRacer spacecraft are identical, except that one carries the tether and the other — named Augury — does not.

According to preflight predictions, the satellite with the tether could re-enter the atmosphere within 45 days. The spacecraft without the tether — the control for the experiment — is expected to remain in orbit for around seven years, according to mission team members.

The device affixed to DragRacer’s Alchemy satellite is called a Terminator Tape. Developed by Tethers Unlimited, the tape measures just a few inches wide, but it can spool out to lengths of hundreds of feet.

The DragRacer experiment is a purely commercial experiment to quantify the effectiveness of the Terminator Tape technology, which Millennium and Tethers Unlimited say is a more reliable, lower cost, and less complex alternative to other deorbit methods, such as drag sails or propulsive thrusters.

“This scientific method experiment will demonstrate Millennium’s ability to field and fly a low-cost and straightforward orbital debris mitigation solution that doesn’t require added mass, volume, cost and complexity of propulsion system to deorbit a satellite in low Earth orbit,” said Stan Dubyn, founder and CEO of Millennium Space Systems, in a press release.

The two DragRacer satellites have a combined weight of around 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms, according to TriSept Corp., a partner on the DragRacer mission overseeing the integration of the satellites on the Rocket Lab launcher.

Ground-based radars will track the changing orbits of both DragRacer spacecraft to measure how they decay differently.

“The space community understands tether systems can expedite re-entry, but this is our first opportunity to truly quantify performance directly and more effectively calibrate models developed over the last 50 years,” said Robert Hoyt, founder and CEO of Tethers Unlimited. “Predictions suggest the tethered spacecraft will deorbit in approximately 45 days, while the untethered spacecraft remains in orbit for approximately 7 to 9 years.”

Tethers Unlimited’s Terminator Tape technology has flown before. The company says the tether module — which attaches on the exterior of a host spacecraft — weighs about 2 pounds and is about the size of a notebook, and is suitable for a range of satellite sizes.

The Prox-1 microsatellite developed by students at Georgia Tech deployed 230-foot-long Terminator Tape last year. Tethers Unlimited said tracking of the spacecraft showed its orbit decaying 24 times faster after extending the tether.

Flying two identical satellites on the DragRacer mission will allow engineers to better characterize the performance of the tether technology.

“The mission is completely about the demonstration,” said Jason Armstrong, director of TriSept’s launch and integration services, in an interview last year with Spaceflight Now. “So immediately upon separation from the launch vehicle, the two halves of the spacecraft will come apart from each other, and then we can deploy the tether on one half of the spacecraft and get immediate results.”

Armstrong said the benefit of the Terminator Tape over other deorbit solutions is its smaller volume and mass.

“It’s much less complex as far as the capabilities you need to have for actuating and deploying the system,” Armstrong said. “On-board, all we need to have is a small timer with a little battery mechanism. That’s very attractive (to satellite operators) because you’re not introducing risk or any high complexity systems that have to talk to your flight computer.”

A “Gnome Chompski” mass simulator rode Rocket Lab’s kick stage into orbit. Credit: Rocket Lab

The two DragRacer satellites have a combined weight of around 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms, according to TriSept Corp., a partner on the DragRacer mission overseeing the integration of the satellites on the Rocket Lab launcher.

Ground-based radars will track the changing orbits of both DragRacer spacecraft to measure how they decay differently.

“The space community understands tether systems can expedite re-entry, but this is our first opportunity to truly quantify performance directly and more effectively calibrate models developed over the last 50 years,” said Robert Hoyt, founder and CEO of Tethers Unlimited. “Predictions suggest the tethered spacecraft will deorbit in approximately 45 days, while the untethered spacecraft remains in orbit for approximately 7 to 9 years.”

Tethers Unlimited’s Terminator Tape technology has flown before. The company says the tether module — which attaches on the exterior of a host spacecraft — weighs about 2 pounds and is about the size of a notebook, and is suitable for a range of satellite sizes.

The Prox-1 microsatellite developed by students at Georgia Tech deployed 230-foot-long Terminator Tape last year. Tethers Unlimited said tracking of the spacecraft showed its orbit decaying 24 times faster after extending the tether.

Flying two identical satellites on the DragRacer mission will allow engineers to better characterize the performance of the tether technology.

“The mission is completely about the demonstration,” said Jason Armstrong, director of TriSept’s launch and integration services, in an interview last year with Spaceflight Now. “So immediately upon separation from the launch vehicle, the two halves of the spacecraft will come apart from each other, and then we can deploy the tether on one half of the spacecraft and get immediate results.”

Armstrong said the benefits of the Terminator Tape over other deorbit solutions are its smaller volume and lower mass.

“It’s much less complex as far as the capabilities you need to have for actuating and deploying the system,” Armstrong said. “On-board, all we need to have is a small timer with a little battery mechanism. That’s very attractive (to satellite operators) because you’re not introducing risk or any high complexity systems that have to talk to your flight computer.”

Other payloads launched on Rocket Lab’s mission Thursday night include two briefcase-sized CubeSats for a French startup named UnseenLabs. Built by the Danish smallsat manufacturer GomSpace, the Bro-2 and Bro-3 satellites are the second and third launched for UnseenLabs.

The French company plans to field a constellation of 20 to 25 satellites over the next five years for maritime surveillance. UnseenLabs says its fleet of nanosatellites will be able to locate and identify ships around the world, providing tracking services for maritime operators and helping security forces watch for pirates and smugglers.

Swarm Technologies had 24 of its tiny SpaceBEE satellites, each about the size of a slice of bread, on the Electron rocket. The “BEE” in SpaceBEE stands for Basic Electronic Element.

Swarm is developing a low-data-rate satellite communications fleet the company says could be used by connected cars, remote environmental sensors, industrial farming operations, transportation, smart meters, and for text messaging in rural areas outside the range of terrestrial networks.

New Zealand’s first satellite designed and built by university satellites also rode into orbit on the Electron rocket.

Designed and built at the University of Auckland, the CubeSat is named Te Waka Āmiorangi o Aotearoa, which translates in English to New Zealand Satellite Vessel. It’s also known as APSS-1, using the acronym for the Auckland Program for Space Systems.

The spacecraft carries an instrument to measure electrical disturbances in the ionosphere to investigate how they might be linked to earthquakes.

Rocket Lab launched the APSS 1 satellite at no charge, according to the University of Auckland.

A “mass simulator” in the form of Gnome Chompski, an item from the “Half-Life” video game, will remain attacked to the Electron rocket’s kick stage after it releases the mission’s other payloads. The space-bound gnome was created for Gabe Newell, founder of the video game company Valve.

“Manufactured with support from multi-award-winning design studio Weta Workshop, the unique space component is additively manufactured from titanium and printed in the shape of Half-Life gaming icon Gnome Chompski,” Rocket Lab writes in the press kit for Thursday’s mission. “The mission serves as an homage to the innovation and creativity of gamers worldwide, and also aims to test and qualify a novel 3D printing technique that could be employed for future spacecraft components. The 150 mm gnome will remain attached to Electron’s kick stage and will de-orbit with it when the stage burns up on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Quelle: SN

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Quelle: RocketLab

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Rocket Lab Launches 30 Satellites, First Stage Parachutes into Ocean

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An Electron first stage descends under parachute. “My new favourite image of 2020,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab launched 30 satellites into orbit from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on Friday. For the first time, the company recovered the Electron rocket’s first stage.

Rocket Lab’s 16th launch featured satellites from the United States, France and New Zealand. The payloads included:

  • TriSept’s two DRAGRACER satellites, which will demonstrate tether systems designed to accelerate spacecraft reentry and reduce orbital debris;
  • Unseenlabs’ BRO-2 and BRO-3 next generation maritime surveillance satellites;
  • Swarm Technologies’ 24 1/4U communications satellites;
  • New Zealand’s first student-built satellite, the APSS-1 satellite for Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute at The University of Auckland; and,
  • Gnome Chompski, a 3D printed mass simulator created by Gabe Newell, founder of Valve Software.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted that the Electron first stage splashed down in the Pacific Ocean under parachute in a major step toward recovering the booster for reuse. The company will later attempt to recover a stage in mid-air using a helicopter.

Rocket Lab equipped the stage with a reaction control system, S-band telemetry, guidance and navigation hardware, and onboard flight computer systems to support descent and recovery.

Rocket Lab has been working on developing the recovery technology and conducting a series of tests since 2019.

“These include a successful mid-air recovery capture of a test rocket stage by a helicopter; successful drogue and main parachute deployment tests in subsequent mock stage exercises dropped at altitude; and successfully guided re-entries of the Electron’s first stage across two real missions in December 2019 and January 2020 respectively,” the company said in a press release.

Quelle: PARABOLIC ARC

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Rocket Lab launches Electron in test of booster recovery

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Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket Nov. 19, placing nearly 30 smallsats in orbit while making its first attempt to recover the rocket’s first stage.

The Electron lifted off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 9:20 p.m. Eastern on a mission called “Return to Sender” by the company. The rocket’s kick stage deployed its payload of 29 smallsats into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit about an hour after liftoff.

Of greater interest to many, though, in the effort by Rocket Lab to recover the rocket’s first stage. The company announced Nov. 5 it would attempt to reenter the stage, deploy a drogue and main parachute, and then splash the stage down in the Pacific Ocean about 400 kilometers downrange from the launch site.

“This is an all-up combined test, a conclusion of a number of tests that we’ve been doing,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said at a briefing to announce its plan to attempt the recovery of the stage.

Initial indications were that the recovery demonstration went as expected, with the stage surviving reentry and deploying the drogue and main parachutes, Rocket Lab announced. Beck later tweeted a photo of the stage floating in the water next to a recovery boat, apparently intact and in good condition.

“What the team achieved today in recovering Electron’s first stage is no mean feat. It took a monumental effort from many teams across Rocket Lab, and it’s exciting to see that work pay off in a major step towards making Electron a reusable rocket,” Beck said in a statement after the launch.

Rocket Lab announced last year that it would attempt to recover and reuse the first stage. Beck had originally dismissed any attempt to recover the stage because of its small size, but became convinced that it would be possible if the stage could survive going through what he dubbed “the wall” of reentry, slowing down the stage enough that parachutes could then deploy for the remaining phase of the descent.

The company tested various aspects of the recovery system separately, including guiding two stages through reentry and conducting tests of parachute deployment. This flight, though, was the first attempt to put the components together, allowing the stage to splash down at a speed of about 10 meters per second.

“A lot of it comes down to just the mass and size constraints we’re dealing with,” said Matt Darley, recovery systems manager at Rocket Lab, during a company webcast of the launch. Fitting the parachutes, reaction control system and other equipment needed for recovery in the limited volume available within the first stage “was probably our biggest challenge.”

Rocket Lab will use a ship to pull the stage out of the water and return it to land, where it will be studied back at the company’s factory. Beck said they did not attempt to perform a mid-air recovery of the first stage using a helicopter — something the company has demonstrated in drop tests earlier this year — because they didn’t know what condition the stage would be in.

The company pursued recovery and reuse of the first stage to enable it to increase its flight rate without having to scale up its factory. “Even if we get to use the stage just another single time, it has the effect of effectively doubling production,” Beck said earlier this month. “Even one reuse is a really huge advantage.”

The recovery effort overshadowed the launch itself, the 16th of the Electron rocket. It placed into orbit 24 Spacebee satellites, each 0.25U in size, by Swarm Technologies. The satellites are part of a constellation of ultimately 150 satellites that will provide internet of things services.

The Electron also carried two satellites for Unseenlabs, a French company developing a constellation to provide radiofrequency tracking of ships. The DRAGRACER mission by TriSept deployed two smallsats, one equipped with a tether to test a technology that could shorten its deorbiting time from several years to as little as 45 days. The APSS-1 cubesat built by students at the University of Auckland in New Zealand will study the Earth’s ionosphere.

Besides the 29 smallsats, the Electron carried an additional payload: a 3D-printed titanium mass simulator 15 centimeters tall in the form of a gnome, dubbed “Gnome Chompski” after a character in the “Half-Life” series of video games. The gnome, which will remain attached to the rocket’s kick stage, was funded by Gabe Newell, founder of video game company Valve Software.

Quelle: SN

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