Spaceflight Insider

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket makes Virginia debut

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket takes to the skies above Virgina to send several satellites into low Earth orbit for Hawkeye 360. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket takes to the skies above Virgina to send several satellites into low Earth orbit for Hawkeye 360. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab launched its first Electron rocket from the United States, sending satellites into orbit for the company Hawkeye 360.

Liftoff occurred at 5 p.m. EST (23:00 UTC) Jan. 24 from Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Dubbed “Virginia is for Launch Lovers” — a play on Virginia’s tourism slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers” — the small rocket had as its payload a trio of satellites that will form Cluster 6 for Virginia-based Hawkeye 360, a data analytics company. This flight marks the first of three launches for the company’s growing constellation used to monitor radio frequencies.

The payload fairing for the Rocket Lab Electron launch "Virginia is for Launch Lovers." Credit: Rocket Lab

The payload fairing for the Rocket Lab Electron launch “Virginia is for Launch Lovers.” Credit: Rocket Lab

Electron is a highly successful rocket designed to put smaller payloads into low earth orbit. The carbon composite rocket consists of three stages.

The first stage is the largest and utilizes nine Rutherford engines, while the smaller second stage uses one Rutherford. The final kick stage is powered by a Curie engine and is used to place the payloads in a highly precise orbit.

While this is the first launch of the Electron from the U.S., it has successfully been placing small satellites into orbit since 2017 from Rocket Lab’s private Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand — with 32 launches to date and 152 satellites successfully deployed.

Rocket Lab’s arrival on the Eastern Shore marks a new chapter in the rich history of rocket launches from Wallops. Along with the construction of LC-2, other new facilities built by Rocket Lab include a mission control complex and a horizontal integration facility.

This new construction is expected to enable the company to launch as many as 12 rockets a year from Wallops.

In addition to the new facilities for Electron, the company is also working to develop its much-larger Neutron rocket, which is expected to be both produced and launched from Wallops.

LC-2 is located adjacent to Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which currently hosts Northrop Grumman’s Antares 230+ rocket that sends Cygnus cargo resupply ships to the International Space Station. The pad was completed in late 2019, but the pandemic and certification of its autonomous flight termination system software delayed the opening.

In the near future, LC-2 looks to become the busier of the two pads as Northrop Grumman will launch its last Antares 230+ rocket in the spring of 2023, then begin work on rebuilding the rocket into its 330 configuration, which will likely take several years.

Video courtesy of Rocket Lab

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Steve moved to central Virginia from the Atlanta suburbs. He studied U.S. history, geography and social sciences at Virginia Tech and began teaching in the public school system in Southampton County, in Virginia’s Tidewater region. While there, he developed a passion for photography focusing on transportation and anything historic. With encouragement from family and friends, he moved backed to central Virginia where he currently lives and works as a computer science teacher. In his spare time, Steve enjoys spending time with his family and exploring the beautiful Virginia county side with his camera.

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