Just over a month after their last launch, small launch vehicle provider Rocket Lab has successfully deployed a flock of NASA CubeSats. The mission was the first of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services, a program dedicated to securing launch capabilities for smaller payloads.
The Electron rocket carrying the 10 ELaNa-19 CubeSats was launched on December 15 from the company’s Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. Following the successful launch, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck confirmed on Twitter that all payloads had been deployed adding, “Perfect mission.”
NASA awarded Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts to three small launch vehicle providers in 2015. Firefly Space Systems and Virgin Galactic were awarding $5.5 million and $4.7 million respectively while Rocket Lab received $6.9 million. Following the initial funding, the agency purchased one flight each from Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit. The contact with Firefly Space Systems was cancelled after the provider failed to meet contractual obligations.
The 10 satellites launched aboard ELaNa-19 were diverse in their functionality and complexity. Among them was the CubeSail, a solar sail technology demonstrator, the NMTSat weather satellite developed by students at the New Mexico Institute of Mining, and CHOMPTT, a technology demonstrator for laser ground-to-space communication. The seven other CubeSats launched were CeREs, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSAT, Sheilds-1 and DaVinci.
Rocket Lab is set to return to their Māhia Peninsula launch facility in January. The launch will deploy the Outerspace1 telecommunications satellite for US broadcaster Outernet Inc, and a second payload that has not yet been confirmed.