Rocket Lab has deployed three payloads and successfully tested a new apogee kick stage on the second test flight of its Electron launch vehicle..
Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle has successfully deployed a Dove Pioneer Earth-imaging satellite for launch customer Planet, as well as two Lemur-2 satellites for weather and ship tracking company Spire.
The launch, which the company describes as its second test flight, took place on 21st January from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand. The vehicle was dubbed “Still Testing”.
The mission tested a previously unannounced apogee kick stage on the launch vehicle, using it to circularise the orbits of the two Spire Lemur-2 CubeSats. The new stage coasted in orbit for around 40 minutes before powering up and igniting Rocket Lab’s new restartable liquid propulsion engine called Curie, then shutting down and deploying payloads.
With the new kick stage, Rocket Lab can execute multiple burns to place numerous payloads into different orbits. Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck says the system opens up significantly more orbital options, particularly for rideshare customers that have traditionally been limited to the primary payload’s designated orbit.
The kick stage — designed for use on the Electron launch vehicle with a payload capacity of up to 150kg — is equipped with a precision pointing cold gas reaction control system, along with its own avionics, power and communications systems.
The stage uses its own “green” propulsion system to de-orbit after mission completion, reducing the launch vehicle material left in space.