© Rocket Lab Electronics Production | April 09, 2019
Rocket Lab to launch R&D satellites for the USAF
The U.S. Air Force has tagged California-based small satellite launch company Rocket Lab to launch three experimental R&D satellites to low-Earth orbit aboard an electron launch vehicle this month.
The launch will take place from Launch Complex 1 in Auckland, New Zealand, and mark Rocket Lab’s second orbital mission of 2019 and fifth orbital mission overall, according to a Rocket Lab press release issued this week. The U.S. Space Test Program procured the mission in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, which leverages DIU’s knowledge of commercial technology companies and enables the government to competitively and rapidly award launch service contracts with non-traditional, venture-class launch providers. The DIU, launched in 2015, is known as "the Pentagon's Innovation Experiment,” and is staffed by civilian and military personnel. The three satellites on board the mission will represent Rocket Lab’s heaviest launch to date, with the total payload weighing in at almost 400 pounds. The satellites will demonstrate advanced space technologies and accelerate the fielding of future operational space capabilities. The first, the Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat-1 (SPARC-1) mission, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), is a joint Swedish-United States experiment to explore technology developments in avionics miniaturization, software defined radio systems, and space situational awareness (SSA). The second, the Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment (Falcon ODE), sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Academy, will evaluate ground-based tracking of space objects. Finally, Harbinger, a commercial small satellite built by York Space Systems, will demonstrate the ability of an experimental commercial system to meet U.S. Government space capability requirements. Rocket Lab is a privately held company founded in 2006 in Huntington Beach, California.