October 17, 2019

Launch timeline for Rocket Lab’s “Make it Rain” mission


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated June 28 to reflect new target launch date.

Rocket Lab’s light-class Electron launcher is set to take off on its seventh flight from New Zealand, aiming for a 280-mile-high (450-kilometer) orbit with seven small satellites for commercial customers, the U.S. military and university students.

The two-stage, 55-foot-tall (17-meter) rocket is scheduled for liftoff during a two-hour window opening at 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT) Saturday from Rocket Lab’s commercial launch complex on Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island.

The launch window opens at 4:30 p.m. local time in New Zealand, less than a half-hour before sunset.

The privately-developed Electron launcher is making its seventh flight after its inaugural mission in May 2017 reached space, but faltered before reaching orbit, followed by six successful missions in a row that have deployed 28 satellites into low Earth orbit.

Read our mission preview story for details on the launch, which was arranged by Rocket Lab with Spaceflight, a Seattle-based company that brokers rideshare launch opportunities for smallsats.

Rocket Lab calls this mission “Make it Rain,” reflecting the wet climate at Spaceflight’s Seattle headquarters.

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+0:02:34: MECO

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

T+0:02:40: First Stage Separation

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

T+0:02:44: 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+0:03:05: 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+0:08:55: SECO

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

T+0:08:59: Kick Stage Separation

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

T+0:50:27: Kick Stage Ignition

The kick stage’s Curie engine ignites for a 44-second burn to place the mission’s seven satellite payloads into a circular 280-mile-high (450-kilometer) orbit with an inclination of 45 degrees. The Curie engine burns a proprietary non-toxic “green” propellant and produces about 27 pounds of thrust.

T+0:51:11: Kick Stage Shutdown

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

T+0:53:26: Payload Separation Sequence Complete

The seven spacecraft on-board the “Make it Rain” mission complete their separation sequence from the Curie kick stage. The satellites include the BlackSky Global 3 commercial Earth observation satellite, two Prometheus CubeSats for the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command, two SpaceBEE data relay CubeSats from Swarm Technologies, and the ACRUX 1 CubeSat developed by the Melbourne Space Program, a non-profit educational organization affiliated with the University of Melbourne in Australia. The identity and owner of the seventh payload has not been disclosed by Rocket Lab.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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