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Rocket Lab launches DARPA research satellite – Spaceflight Now



Rocket Lab's fifth electron rocket launched at 7:27 pm EDT (2327 GMT) from the company's launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Credit Card: Rocket Lab / Kieran Fanning & Sam Toms

A rocket lab Electron rocket climbed in New Zealand circuit Thursday (American time) with an experimental payload for a US military research and development agency to demonstrate the performance of a compact implementable antenna that could extend the communication capabilities of future small satellites.

The 55-meter-long (17-meter) rocket operated by nine petroleum-staged 3D-printed Rutherford main engines fired its launch pad on New Zealand's North Island at 07:27 EDT (2327 GMT) after a four-day delay to give Time for crews to replace a video transmitter and wait for improved weather conditions.

The electron rocket is led east from Rocket Lab's commercial space port on the Mahia Peninsula, where liftoff took place at 12: 00 local time Friday. The sleek all-black launcher, sized for small satellite launches and made of lightweight carbon composite materials, rose through broken clouds and released its first phase to fall into the sea two and a half minutes in the mission.

A single Rutherford engine on the second phase of the electron ignites to accelerate into a preliminary parking lot, then a Curie kick stage was maneuvered into an almost circular circuit with an average height of about. 264 miles and a slope of 39.5 degrees to the equator.

The Rocket Lab launch of the launch ended after the completion of Electron's second-phase engine, burned about 10 minutes after lifting, but the firm confirmed that the final kick maneuver was as planned. Separation of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's R3D2 satellite was timed for approx. 53 minutes after liftoff.

Officials declared success after the R3D2 satellite was installed from the Curie kick stage, and expanding Rocket Lab's touch of successful launches to four consecutive inaugural Electron test flights fell short on the 2017 circuit. DARPA says radio frequency risk reduction demonstration, or R3D2, the satellite was developed in just over 18 months, an unusually fast pace for a space mission.

"Congratulations to our dedicated team for delivering another important and innovative asset to space – on time and on target," says Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. "The unique requirement for this mission made Electron the perfect launching device for lifting R3D2 as a dedicated payload for a very precise circuit."

The US New Zealand launch provider is planning to ramp up to a pace of launch each year. Month later this year. Rocket Lab is building another Electron launch pad at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia, for missions beginning at the end of this year.

The 330 pound (150 kilo) R3D2 spacecraft will demonstrate a new type of membrane reflecting array antenna that can be packed into a tight volume for launch on a small rocket, and unfurl once in space.

Artist's illustration of DARPA's R3D2 satellite. Credit: Northrop Grumman

R3D2 & # 39; s antenna is made of a tissue thin Kapton membrane and will implement to a diameter of nearly 2.7 meters in orbit according to DARPA.

During a demonstration mission slated to last For at least six months, engineers will monitor the dynamics of antenna implementation and evaluate its performance.

"The antenna could activate multiple missions that currently require large satellites to include high data rate communication to disadvantaged users on the ground" officials wrote in a mission statement listed on the DARPA website. "A successful demonstration will also help prove a smaller, faster launch and lower cost capability, enabling the Ministry of Defense and other users to make the most of the new commercial market for small, cheap launch cars."

DARPA says The R3D2 satellite costs about $ 25 million, and the agency's commercial launch contract with Rocket Lab is worth $ 6.5 million.

"The Ministry of Defense has prioritized the rapid acquisition of small satellite and launch features. By relying on commercial acquisition practices, DARPA streamlined the R3D2 mission from fertilization through launch services acquisition," said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office. . "This mission can help validate new concepts for a resilient sensor and data transport layer in low-earth circuits – a capability that does not exist today but can revolutionize global communications by laying the foundations for a space-based internet." [19659003] Northrop Grumman is the main contractor for the R3D2 mission and assembled the satellite. Blue Canyon Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, provided the spacecraft platform, and MMA Design in Louisville, Colorado, built the antenna. Trident Systems, headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, designed and built R3D2's software-defined radio, says DARPA.

MMA Design's Pantograph Implementable High-Reflector Antenna can work in a wide variety of radio frequencies – from UHF to Ka-band – support for broadband, voice, video and data relay missions.

The antenna is scheduled to be fully transformed about one week after launch to launch a series of tests for DARPA, including downlink of encrypted data to US state stations, the agency said in response to questions from Spaceflight Now.

"What we do on this mission, primarily demonstrates a new high-compression implementation," says Lindsay Millard, DARPA's R3D2 presenter. "An antenna has many different uses for DoD. An example is communication. The antenna and the power you have on the satellite dictates which antenna you need on the ground to receive it, the larger the antenna you can have in the room, the less It can be on the ground.

"Mounting the very large antenna to a smaller satellite makes the satellite cheaper and allows us to take advantage of different types of launch vehicles that we might not be able to use for larger satellites," says Millard.

The mission is set to last year up to six months, but the spacecraft is designed for a lifetime of 18 months.

"It has four different carbon fiber insertion mechanisms that go out on every corner, so it has a pantograph that's a shape as such of an accordion outside that will expand," Millard said. "Then we begin to see how flat the antenna is, we will make some reviews from the ground to see what it may be capable of transmitting."

"What really makes the antenna is copper etching on Kapton, Millard said." Kapton looks very much like cellophane you might have in an Easter basket, and then it's a good place to keep the copper, reflecting the energy, and It's just put in Kapton. So when electromagnetic radiation hits the antenna, it acts as a parabola and focuses on energy. The R3D2 mission was Rocket Lab's first launch to the US military, and the company's first launch of a microsatellite, after previous electron planes carried clusters of much smaller CubeSats to space.

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