Mission timeline for Rocket Lab’s launch of NASA’s ELaNa-19 CubeSats

Rocket Lab’s light-class Electron launcher is set to take off on its fourth flight from New Zealand, aiming to deliver 13 CubeSats to orbit on the company’s first mission for NASA.

The two-stage, 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket could take off as soon as 11 p.m. EST on Dec. 15 (0400 GMT on Dec. 16) from Rocket Lab’s commercial launch complex on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island.

The privately-developed Electron launcher is making its fourth flight after its maiden flight in May 2017 reached space, but faltered before reaching orbit, followed by back-to-back successful missions that deployed nanosatellites into low Earth orbit.

Rocket Lab has christened the mission “This One’s for Pickering” in honor of the New Zealand-born scientist William Pickering, who was director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for 22 years until his retirement in 1976.

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+0:02:31: 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+0:02:37: 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+0:03:07: 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+0:09:06: SECO

The second stage’s Rutherford vacuum engine shuts down after reaching an elliptical parking orbit.

T+0:09:10: Kick Stage Separation

The Electron rocket’s kick stage separates from the second stage.

T+0:50:00: Kick Stage Ignition

The kick stage’s Curie engine ignites for a 90-second burn to place the mission’s CubeSat payloads into a circular 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) orbit with an inclination of 85 degrees. The Curie engine burns a proprietary non-toxic “green” propellant and produces about 27 pounds of thrust.

T+0:51:30: Kick Stage Shutdown

The kick stage’s Curie engine shuts down after achieving the proper orbit.

T+0:51:30: End of Payload Separation Sequence

The 13 CubeSats are all separated from the Electron kick stage.

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