Rocket Lab’s Electron Launches U.S. Military Satellite in Successful Return to Flight

Electron engine firing (Credit: Rocket Lab webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MAHIA PENINSULA, New Zealand — Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket launched an U.S. Space Force satellite on Thursday in a successful return to flight for the small-satellite booster after a launch failure in May.

The booster lifted off with the USSF’s Monolith technology technology demonstration satellite. Deployment from the booster’s kick stage occurred less than an hour after liftoff from Rocket Lab’s facility on the Mahia Peninsula.

“The satellite will explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control,” Rocket Lab said in a press release. “Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor aims to enable the use of smaller satellite buses when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines. The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.”

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory developed the satellite. The mission was procured by the Department of Defense Space Test Program and the Rocket Systems Launch Program. The flight was part of the Defense Innovation Unit’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative.

Rocket Lab had planned to launch the satellite from its new launch facility at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. However, NASA is still certifying processes for Electron’s autonomous flight termination systems software for U.S. launches.

The launch, which was named “It’s a Little Chile Up Here”, was the fourth Electron flight of 2021 and the 21st overall. The booster has a record of 18 successes and three failures.

Electron failed during its previous launch on May 15. The company said its investigation found that a flaw in the second stage igniter caused the thrust vector control system to deviate from normal parameters. The computer then shut down the engine.