Rocket Lab Launches DARPA Research Satellite

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April 9, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: April 9 on

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket climbed into orbit from New Zealand Thursday (U.S. time) with an experimental payload for a U.S. military research and development agency to demonstrate the performance of a compact, deployable antenna that could expand the communications capabilities of future small satellites.

The 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket, powered by nine kerosene-fueled 3D-printed Rutherford main engines, fired off its launch pad on New Zealand’s North Island at 7:27 p.m. EDT (2327 GMT) after a 4-day delay to allow time for crews to replace a video transmitter and wait for improved weather conditions.

The Electron rocket headed east from Rocket Lab’s commercial spaceport on Mahia Peninsula, where liftoff occurred at 12:27 p.m. local time Friday. The slender all-black launcher, sized for small satellite launches and made of lightweight carbon composite materials, soared through broken clouds and released its first stage to fall into the sea 2 1/2 minutes into the mission.

A single Rutherford engine on the Electron’s second stage ignited to accelerate into a preliminary parking orbit, then a Curie kick stage maneuvered into a nearly circular orbit with an average altitude of roughly 264 miles (425 kilometers) and an inclination of 39.5 degrees to the equator.