Rocket Lab launches three R&D satellites for US DoD Space Test Program

Hemanth Kumar and Talal Husseini 7 May 2019 (Last Updated May 7th, 2019 12:30)

Rocket Lab has launched three research and development (R&D) satellites for the US Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program.

Rocket Lab launches three R&D satellites for US DoD Space Test Program
The STP-27RD mission is Rocket Lab’s second successful launch this year. Credit: Rocket Lab USA.

Rocket Lab has launched three research and development (R&D) satellites for the US Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program.

The STP-27RD mission is Rocket Lab’s second successful launch this year and fifth orbital mission overall.

The satellites were launched aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle from Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. With the latest launch, the total number of satellites deployed to orbit by the firm reaches 28.

Rocket Lab intends to conduct monthly launches from Launch Complex 1 for the remainder of 2019, with various commercial and public sector customers. The first launch from the Launch 2 Complex at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, US, will take place in late 2019.

Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck said: “It’s a testament to our team and mission partners that Electron has placed another three satellites in orbit, just weeks after our flawless mission for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“We’re proud to have delivered 100% mission success for the launch procured by the DOD’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, proving once again Rocket Lab’s ability to provide responsive and streamlined space access.”

The US DoD’s Space Test Program is intended to demonstrate advanced space technologies and includes a satellite to evaluate new ways of tracking space debris.

"The payload carried by the Electron launch vehicle for the STP-27RD mission weighed in at around 180kg."

The payload carried by the Electron launch vehicle for the STP-27RD mission weighed in at around 180kg. This represents Rocket Lab’s heaviest payload to date.

The first satellite was the Space Plug and Play Architecture Research CubeSat-1 (SPARC-1) mission.

Sponsored by the US Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate, the SPARC-1 mission is a joint experiment between the US and Sweden.

The experiment is designed to explore technology developments in avionics miniaturisation, software defined radio systems, and space situational awareness.

The second payload, known as the Falcon Orbital Debris Experiment, is sponsored by the US Air Force Academy, and is intended to evaluate ground-based tracking of space objects.

The third is a commercial small satellite known as Harbinger and built by York Space Systems.

Sponsored by the US Army, Harbinger comprises an experimental commercial system designed to meet the country’s space capability requirements.

Last month, Rocket Lab launched US DARPA’s R3D2 satellite in orbit. The R3D2 mission is designed to space-qualify a new type of membrane reflect array antenna to improve radio communications in small spacecraft.