Rocket Lab to Launch Experimental R3D2 Payload for DARPA

Rocket Lab will launch DARPA's R3D2 prototype reflect array antenna aboard an Electron rocket in February.
Rocket Lab’s ELaNa19 mission lifts off from the company’s Mahia Peninsula launch facility in New Zealand | Image credit: Trevor Mahlmann/Rocket Lab

Small launch vehicle company Rocket Lab has revealed that its first mission of 2019 will be a dedicated launch for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The 150-kilogram experimental satellite will carry a prototype reflective array antenna.

After successfully launching three orbital missions in 2018, Rocket Lab is kicking off their 2019 launch calendar with a mission for the United States Department of Defense, DARPA. The agency is responsible for the development of emerging technologies for the military.

The Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2) mission intends to space-qualify a prototype reflect array antenna. The antenna is constructed using a tissue-thin Kapton membrane that, once deployed will measure 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). The revolutionary antenna design can be stowed within s small space during launch and deployed once in orbit. It is hoped that the prototype antenna will help improve radio communications in small spacecraft.

DARPA's Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2 ) prototype reflect array antenna is set to be launched aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in February.
The R3D2 prototype reflect array antenna fully deployed | Image credit: DARPA

As one of the few launch companies offering small dedicated launch services, Rocket Lab appears to be creating a solid customer base for its Electron rocket.

“Rapid acquisition of small satellite launch capabilities is increasingly important to US Government organizations like DARPA,” said Rocket Lab CEO and founder, Peter Beck. The ability to rapidly space-qualify new technology and deploy space-based assets with confidence on short notice is a service that didn’t exist for dedicated small satellites until now.”

The launch of the R3D2 mission is currently scheduled for late February with an exact date not yet forthcoming. In a statement published on the company’s website, Rocket Lab inferred that monthly launches would follow the R3D2. If this is the case, the company could be looking at between a 200 and 300% increase in orbital missions from 2018.

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.