Rocket Lab’s 12th mission named “Don’t Stop Me Now” launched off on June 13th, from Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site at 13:12 eastern time (17:12 local New Zealand time) after nearly a two and half month delay caused by the stay-in-place orders implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rocket Lab carried five satellites in total on board two-stage Electron booster, which included three payloads for United States NRO (National Reconnaissance Office). All five satellites were successfully deployed into their respective orbits.
Unfavorable weather conditions and strong winds prevented a launch attempt on Thursday, June 11th. The second attempt on June 13th was successful and Rocket Lab representatives reported no problems.
United States NRO implemented Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket program to explore a streamlined and commercial approach to launch small satellites into space and provide timely, cost effective opportunities to access space.
Information on the three NRO satellites is highly classified. Rocket Labs previously launched NROL-151 satellite in January for the United States agency on their most recent previous mission.
The mission included another miniature space research cubesat “ANDESITE” built by Boston University. ANDESITE stands for “Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavours”, part of NASA’s initiative to study Earth’s magnetic field and space weather. ANDESITE uses onboard instruments to collect data and will deploy eight ultra-small picosatellites in the near future whilst in orbit.
The fifth satellite constituting the payload was M2 Pathfinder that seeks to test communications architecture and information on space exploration for Australia. M2 Pathfinder is a collaboration between the Australian Government and University of New South Wales in Canberra.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket stands at 57 feet (17 meters) tall, capable of a payload of 227 kg (500 pounds), with an estimated lift-off cost $5 million. Rocket Labs aims to make its first stage rockets reusable and have safely returned their booster rockets back to Earth on previous two missions. Rocket Lab stated “Don’t Stop Me Now” mission did not include recovery testing.