Rocket Lab Launch Experimental R3D2 Satellite for DARPA

Rocket Lab has successfully launched the R3D2 satellite for DARPA.
A close up of the nine Rutherford engines that power the Electron rocket’s first stage | Image credit: Rocket Lab/Brady Kenniston

Rocket Lab has successfully deployed an experimental satellite for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The R3D2 satellite was launched aboard an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 23:27 UTC on March 28 (12:27 local time on March 29). Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s kick stage carrying the R3D2 satellite separated successfully. The Electron’s kick stage is powered by Rocket Lab’s Curie engine and allows the launch provider to “deliver payloads to precise orbits”. Approximately 40 minutes later, the R3D2 separated from the kick stage into its designated orbit.

DARPA’s R3D2 satellite carries an innovative antenna that is made from a tissue-thin Kapton membrane. Due to its thin and light construction, the 2.25-meter (7.4-foot) antenna can be packed and stored in a small space. The technology could revolutionise the smallsat market making these cheap, simple satellites far more capable than in the past. The R3D2 satellite’s innovate antenna design was developed and built by Louisville-based aerospace firm MMA Design.

DARPA's R3D2 satellite has been successfully launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket.
A rendering of the R3D2 satellite in orbit with its innovative antenna deployed | Image credit: Northrop Grumman

The launch of the R3D2 satellite was Rocket Lab’s first of 2019. In a press release published following the launch, Rocket Lab officials revealed that the company plans to launch every four weeks this year to service its backlog of customers. Despite this bold assertion, the company has yet to schedule its next launch.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.