American aerospace company, Rocket Labs kicked off its ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical’ mission for an information services company, Capella Space, launching satellite Sequoia atop Rocket Lab’s launch vehicle, ‘Electron’.
The lift-off took place from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand when the weather was 90% in favour. The launch provided a stunning sight, especially since the launchpad is located at one of the most beautiful sites on Earth.
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) August 31, 2020
The spacecraft reached Max Q (point of maximum mechanical stress) at T+ 00:01:15. The main stage cut off (MECO) occurred at 2 minutes and 41 seconds from lift-off. This was followed by stage separation. The two fairing halves were separated at T+ 00:03:15. Fairing separation exposes the satellites to the space for deployment into orbit. At T+ 00:06:29, the battery hot-swap was executed successfully. Shortly after, Rocket Lab took to Twitter to confirm the deployment of the satellite.
Earlier, on 4th July, the Electron rocket encountered a failure just a few minutes after the launch. The company conducted an investigation and found out that a single faulty electric connection in the upper stage caused the failure. The company stated that the issue was “very, very sneaky and tricky”, but was under their control. Since then, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical” is the first mission undertaken by the company.
About The Mission And The Payload
The mission statement noted that “Capella’s payload, ‘Sequoia’, is a single 100 kg class microsatellite which will be the first publicly available satellite in the company’s commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation.” The satellite will be positioned at 45 degrees into the Earth’s orbit to gain coverage over places like Middle East, Europe, Africa, South East Asia, the US, among others.
The name of this mission is a reference to the SAR technology of Capella, which offers high-quality Earth-imaging whether it’s a day or night. The mission statement noted that the space-based radar could detect sub 0.5 meter changes on Earth. This means that the radar can provide important information and on-demand data, which is important for security, agriculture and infrastructure. Additionally, it serves as an efficient disaster management system for response and recovery.
What’s impressive about the mission is that Rocket Lab has pulled off a major increase in the payload capacity from 225 kg to 300 kg, by merely adding some new batteries.
‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical’ marks the first launch of the Whitney constellation, along with the 14th orbital launch of the Electron rocket.
In this mission, the company did not intend to recover the first stage yet. Instead, the first stage plunged into the Pacific Ocean. The company stated that Electron is too small to handle vertical landings like Falcon 9 booster. The Electron booster cannot hold adequate fuel that is required for landing back on Earth. However, Rocket Lab is seeking booster recovery in a block upgrade to the Electron rocket. The company will attempt to recover the first stage, for the very first time, in the 17th flight. Rocket Lab intends to achieve the re-entry through parachute deployment and ocean recovery, followed by a thorough inspection. Rocket Lab CEO, Peter Beck, stated:
This was a busy day for space programs as SpaceX also launched its SAOCOM-1B satellite up on the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX has rescheduled its Starlink Mission to 1st September ahead of iffy weather conditions, and the SN6 hop will also be conducted sometime this week.
In case you missed it, watch the launch here.