December 6, 2019

Launch timeline for the Electron rocket’s second test flight


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated for new launch attempt Jan. 20.

Rocket Lab’s light-class Electron launcher is set to take off on its second orbital test flight from New Zealand, aiming to deliver three small shoebox-sized CubeSats into low Earth orbit for Planet and Spire.

The two-stage, 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket could take off as soon as 8:30 p.m. EST on Jan. 20 (0130 GMT on Jan. 21) from Rocket Lab’s commercial launch complex on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island.

The privately-developed Electron launcher is making its second flight after its maiden flight in May reached space, but faltered before reaching orbit. While the second flight is still considered a test — Rocket Lab has christened the mission “Still Testing” — three CubeSats are on-board from California-based companies Planet and Spire.

The timeline posted below is accompanied by animation provided by Rocket Lab that illustrates the approximate appearance of the major flight events.

Data source: Rocket Lab

T-0:00:00: Liftoff

The Electron rocket lifts off on the power of nine kerosene-fueled Rutherford main engines, generating 34,500 pounds of thrust at liftoff and powering up to 41,500 pounds of thrust as the rocket climbs into the upper atmosphere.

T+0:01:20: Max-Q

The Electron rocket experiences the most intense aerodynamic pressures at this phase of flight.

T+0:02:30: MECO

The nine first stage Rutherford main engines shut down after a two-and-a-half minute burn.

T+0:02:34: First Stage Separation

The Electron’s first stage separates from its second stage.

T+0:02:36: Second Stage Ignition

The Electron’s second stage Rutherford engine ignites to continue the trip into orbit, producing approximately 5,000 pounds of thrust in vacuum.

T+0:03:04: Fairing Jettison

The Electron rocket’s payload fairing, which protected the satellites during the initial phase of ascent, jettisons once the rocket is above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere. The composite 3.9-foot-diameter (1.2-meter) shroud will fall into the Pacific Ocean.

T+0:08:14: SECO

The second stage’s Rutherford vacuum engine shuts down after reaching a targeted elliptical orbit with an apogee, or high point, of 310 miles (500 kilometers), a perigee, or low point, of 186 miles (300 kilometers), and an inclination of 83 degrees.

T+0:08:31: Payload Separation

Two CubeSats from Spire and one CubeSat from Planet will begin their separation sequence once the second stage achieves orbit and shuts down.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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