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Rocket Lab Launches NASA Cubesats to Orbit

By Annamarie Nyirady | December 17, 2018

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle lifting off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on Dec. 16. Photo: Trevor Mahlmann

Rocket Lab launched its third orbital mission of 2018, successfully deploying satellites to orbit for NASA. The mission, designated Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 , took place just over a month after Rocket Lab’s last successful orbital launch. Rocket Lab has launched a total of 24 satellites to orbit in 2018.

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted off at 6:33 UTC from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula on Sunday, Dec. 16. After being launched to an elliptical orbit, Electron’s Curie engine-powered kick stage separated from the vehicle’s second stage, before circularizing to a 500 by 500 kilometer orbit at an 85 degree inclination. By 56 minutes into the mission, the 13 satellites on board were individually deployed to their designated orbits.

This mission, awarded under a Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Agreement, marks the first time NASA cubesats received a dedicated ride to orbit on a commercial launch vehicle. VCLS is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program headquartered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rocket Lab founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Peter Beck said that the ELaNa-19 mission represents a forward-thinking approach from NASA to acquiring launch services and recognizes the increasingly significant role small satellites are playing in exploration, technology demonstration, research and education.