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WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab launched its second Electron rocket from Virginia March 16, placing two Capella Space radar imaging satellites into orbit.
The Electron lifted off from the company’s Launch Complex 2 at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, at 6:38 p.m. Eastern. Poor weather conditions delayed the launch from its original date of March 11.
The Electron was carrying two synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellites built and operated by Capella Space on a mission called “Stronger Together” by Rocket Lab. The kick stage delivered the 100-kilogram satellites into a 600-kilometer circular orbit at an inclination of 44 degrees, deploying them nearly 58 minutes after liftoff.
The launch was the second this year for Rocket Lab, after a Jan. 24 launch carrying three HawkEye 360 satellites that provide radio-frequency monitoring services. That launch was also the first by the company from its Virginia launch site.
Rocket Lab expects to conduct up to 15 Electron launches this year from both Virginia and its original launch site in New Zealand, up from nine in 2022. “We’re really working to hit our stride with Electron,” said Richard French, director of business development and strategy for Rocket Lab’s space systems unit, during a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference here March 15.
The company has a strong manifest for Electron, he said, giving as one example a new multi-launch contract signed with Capella Space Feb. 28. Rocket Lab will launch four Electrons in “rapid succession,” according to the announcement, each carrying one satellite of Capella’s new Acadia series of SAR spacecraft. The contract, separate from the one for the Stronger Together mission, calls for the launches to start in the second half of 2023.
While Rocket Lab is working on the larger Neutron rocket, slated to debut as soon as 2024, French said there were no plans for Neutron to replace Electron. “Electron is not going anywhere,” he said. “We think Electron is a very important capability. We have a strong manifest with increasing demand.”
The next Electron launch is scheduled to take place later in March from New Zealand. That launch, called “The Beat Goes On” by Rocket Lab, will carry two optical imaging satellites for BlackSky under a multi-launch contract arranged through Spaceflight.