EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated March 24, March 25 and 26 with new launch dates.
Rocket Lab’s light-class Electron launcher is set to take off on its fifth flight from New Zealand, aiming for a 264-mile-high (425-kilometer) orbit with DARPA’s R3D2 technology demonstration satellite.
The two-stage, 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket is scheduled for liftoff during a four-hour window opening at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT) Thursday from Rocket Lab’s commercial launch complex on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island.
The privately-developed Electron launcher is making its fifth flight after its maiden flight in May 2017 reached space, but faltered before reaching orbit, followed by four successful missions in a row that deployed nanosatellites into low Earth orbit.
A $1.8 billion U.S. Air Force communications satellite rode a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket into orbit Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, joining three similar craft perched more than 22,000 miles above Earth to ensure government leaders can remain in contact with military commanders in the worst-case scenario of nuclear war.
A Vega rocket fired into orbit Thursday night from French Guiana with Italy’s PRISMA hyperspectral Earth-imaging satellite, commencing a busy period for the Vega launcher program as engineers prepare for the debut of the more powerful Vega-C booster in early 2020 and study a lighter variant to better compete in the growing smallsat launch market.