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Rocket Lab to launch more BlackSky satellites in new deal
by Paul Hill
Rocket Lab has announced that it has signed a deal with BlackSky to launch nine of the latter’s satellites across five Electron missions after the successful launch of a BlackSky satellite by Rocket Lab earlier this week. The satellites will be taken into low Earth orbit where they will help deliver real-time geospatial intelligence and global monitoring services.
Commenting on the deal, Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck said:
According to the announcement, this deal is the largest number of satellites that BlackSky has committed to a single launch provider. Under the arrangement, eight of BlackSky’s 130kg satellites will be launched on four missions throughout the year and will demonstrate Rocket Lab’s responsive launch capability. The agreement also includes options for two additional launches in the fourth quarter.
The year is shaping up to be an important one for Rocket Lab. At the start of the month, it announced a merger with Vector Acquisition Corporation which will see the firm become a publicly-traded company and appear as RKLB on the Nasdaq. This year, the company also has a launch lined up for the U.S. Space Force and it will be sending a mission to the Moon for NASA.
OneWeb and SatixFy to bring satellite Wi-Fi to planes
by Paul Hill
The satellite company OneWeb, which was acquired by the UK government last July, is working with the multibeam antenna firm SatixFy to develop new In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) terminal technology that will use OneWeb’s satellite constellation to deliver broadband-comparable speeds on aeroplanes.
According to the announcement put out by OneWeb, the new IFC terminal will work over OneWeb’s constellation as well as on Geostationary (GEO) satellite networks. To help bring IFC terminals to Commercial Aviation Markets, SatixFy has formed a joint venture with Singapore Technology Engineering Ltd that’s known as JetTalk.
Commenting on the news, Ben Griffin, VP Mobility at OneWeb, said:
According to the European Space Agency, which has contributed towards SatixFy’s terminal implementation, OneWeb currently operates 110 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites but in future plans to expand this to around 650. The terminals will use electronically steered multi-beam antenna (ESMA) technology to allow them to operate at the same time between several different satellites.
None of those involved in the project gave an estimate of when the commercial products will finally make their way into aircraft but the work to develop the technology and commercialise it is well underway.
TWIRL 3: Rocket Lab to attempt launch of delayed mission
by Paul Hill
Last week was quite good for SpaceX with it almost successfully landing its Starship rocket during a test, unfortunately, it caught fire and exploded on the pad. Rocket Lab also had to delay its “They Go Up So Fast” mission which we covered in This Week in Rocket Launches #2 but will make another go of it this week.
Aside from Rocket Lab’s mission to put several satellites into orbit, there will be two SpaceX launches carrying more satellites for the Starlink constellation as well as a Chinese mission carrying an experimental satellite called Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 which replaces a satellite that was lost last year.
Rocket Lab’s launch will be performed by one of its Electron rockets, it will carry the Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats named Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. Electron rockets are very light, weighing in at just 12,500 kg; this is probably where the inspiration for the name of the mission came from. The launch will be live-streamed on the company’s website on or around Wednesday if the launch goes ahead.
On Wednesday and Saturday, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 rockets, both carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Internally, the missions are known as Starlink V1.0-L20 and Starlink V1.0-L21 respectively and the total payload mass weighs in at 15.6 tonnes with each satellite weighing 260 kg. There are 1141 Starlink satellites in orbit but the firm plans to orbit nearer 10,000 satellites eventually before ramping the number up above 30,000 so we’ll see these launches for a long time. To watch these launches, check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel which will carry recordings if you miss the live events.
Before SpaceX’s second launch, China will send up its Long March CZ-7A carrying the Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 satellite. The satellite is experimental and a part of a series of demonstration missions being carried out by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). As is typical with Chinese launches, video and photos of the launch will appear online following the launch but there likely will be no live stream.
There are plenty more rocket launches every week for the remainder of the month so be sure to look out for next week’s This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL).
Rocket Lab releases plans for reusable Neutron rocket
by Paul Hill
Rocket Lab, one of the many private space firms, has revealed plans for a new reusable rocket called Neutron. The firm said that the 8-ton payload launch vehicle will deploy satellite constellations, go to other planets and take humans into space.
If you’ve been following Neowin’s new This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL) series, you’ll know that Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket already delivers satellites into space. While Electron is limited to launching 300 kg satellites, the new rocket will be able to lift 8,000 kg to low-Earth orbit, 2,000 kg to the Moon, and 1,500 kg to Mars and Venus.
Speaking about the announcement, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said:
Much like SpaceX has been doing with its rockets, Neutron’s first of two stages will be designed to land on an ocean platform, this will allow the company to lower costs for customers and get more launches done. Rocket Lab expects to perform Neutron launches from Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Launching from this facility will eliminate the need for Rocket Lab to build a new pad which will accelerate the time to launch.
The firm said it expects to begin launches of Neutron rockets from 2024 and is looking for sites across America to build a new factory that will support the manufacture of the Neutron rocket and create hundreds of jobs.
TWIRL 2: SpaceX's Starship SN10 could take flight
by Paul Hill
Things are a little quieter this week on the space launch front compared with last week. This week we can expect to see Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket launch a Blacksky Global satellite among others, Iran’s Pars 1 satellite is set to make another launch attempt, and SpaceX is expected to launch the successor to Starship SN9 which exploded several weeks ago.
The first launch of the week is due on Monday from New Zealand where Rocket Lab will launch an Electron rocket carrying Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats dubbed Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. The firm has decided to call the mission “They Go Up So Fast” - something which is actually true thanks to the rocket weighing just 12,500 kg. On the day of launch, Rocket Lab will publish a live stream on its website.
Next up, again on Monday, is Iran’s Simorgh rocket which will deliver the Pars 1 satellite into orbit. The mission was originally scheduled for last Thursday but it appears to have been pushed back. The rocket will launch from the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center in Semnan. The satellite is equipped with remote-sensing technologies which will monitor the country’s agricultural lands, forests and lakes, and monitor any damage from fires and floods that may happen in the future.
Finally, we’ve got SpaceX’s Starship SN10 which is due for a test launch, possibly in the coming days. This is not a launch to space and is just a test so there’s no fixed schedule but it could happen as soon as tomorrow. In this test launch, we will be keenly watching to see whether the company can finally pull off the landing which it has failed to do with SN8 and SN9 which have launched since December. The NASASpaceFlight YouTube channel and SpaceX’s official YouTube channel will cover the event when it finally happens but don’t be surprised if it gets scrubbed several times.
That’s all for the first week of March but the month ahead is packed with launches every week so be on the lookout for future This Week in Rocket Launches posts over the coming weekends.