Electron launches two Capella Space radar satellites

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab launched its second Electron rocket from Virginia on March 16, carrying two Capella Space radar imaging satellites into orbit.

The Electron lifted off at 6:38 p.m. Eastern Time from the company’s Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia. Bad weather conditions delayed the launch from its original March 11 date.

The Electron was aboard two SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) imaging satellites built and operated by Capella Space on a mission dubbed Rocket Lab’s “Stronger Together.” The kick stage propelled the 100-kilogram satellites into a 600-kilometer circular orbit with a 44-degree inclination, deploying them nearly 58 minutes after launch.

The launch was Rocket Lab’s second this year, following a Jan. 24 launch with three HawkEye 360 ​​satellites providing radio frequency surveillance services. That launch was also the company’s first from its Virginia launch site.

Rocket Lab expects to conduct up to 15 Electron launches this year from both Virginia and its original launch site in New Zealand, up from nine in 2022. “We’re really working to hit the ground running with Electron,” said Richard French, director of business development and strategy for Rocket Lab’s space systems unit, speaking at a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference here on March 15.

The company has a strong manifesto for Electron, he said, citing as an example a new multi-launch contract signed with Capella Space on Feb. 28. Rocket Lab will launch four Electrons “in quick succession,” each carrying a satellite from Capella’s new Acadia series of SAR spacecraft, according to the announcement. The contract, separate from that for the Stronger Together mission, states that launches should start in the second half of 2023.

While Rocket Lab works on the larger Neutron rocket, which is slated to debut in 2024, French said there were no plans for Neutron to replace Electron. “Electron isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “We think Electron is a very important opportunity. We have a strong manifesto with increasing demand.”

The next Electron launch is scheduled for later in March from New Zealand. That launch, dubbed “The Beat Goes On” by Rocket Lab, will carry two optical imaging satellites for BlackSky under a multi-launch contract arranged through Spaceflight.

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