Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket launched 13 cubesats from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket successfully launched a group of cubesats on December 16, 2018 from the company’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 1:33 a.m. Eastern. The mission was funded by NASA and the rocket placed a kick stage containing the 13 satellites into orbit nine minutes after launch. After 40 minutes, the kick stage ignited for a 90-second burn and the satellites were placed into 500-kilometer circular orbits at an inclination of 85 degrees.
NASA purchased the launch for its CubeSat Launch Initiative program that offers launches for cubesats developed by academic institutions and NASA centers. The launch was dubbed as Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 19 and consists of three satellites built by NASA centers, six by universities and one by North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, Rathdrum in Idaho. The array of satellites consists those built primarily to give students experience in satellite development and those testing advanced technologies. The payload contained RSat that was developed at the U.S. Naval Academy. The satellite is tasked to test robotic arms planned for future satellite-servicing spacecraft. CubeSat is developed by University of Illinois and will test soil sail technology. The Advanced Electrical Bus, or ALBus, developed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center will demonstrate new power systems and solar array deployment technologies.
The other satellites as a part of ELaNa-19 included AeroCube 11—developed by the Aerospace Corporation to test advanced imaging technologies and, Space-Based High Frequency Testbed 2—developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The satellite is tasked to study the ionosphere using high-frequency radio signals. Rocket Lab was awarded the contract for the launch in October 2015 by NASA through its Venture Class Launch Services program that focuses on developing dedicated launch services for cubesats and other smallsats.