Rocket Lab plans to launch the company's second Electron rocket to its launch pad in New Zealand on Thursday for final preparations for the countdown, but authorities delayed take-off no earlier than Friday night , United States time.
The electron amplifier, approximately 55 feet (17 meters) high, could take off from the commercial launch platform of Rocket Lab as early as 0130 GMT on Saturday (8:30 pm EST Friday) at the opening of a four-hour launch window. The launching opportunity opens at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in New Zealand.
Rocket Lab says it has a wider window to launch the rocket, with four hours each day until December 17.
It was planned to take off with three commercial CubeSat payloads as early as Thursday night, US time. UU , but officials said they needed more time.
The company transported the Electron vehicle to its launch base last month, after completing the full fire test. The launch team tested the countdown procedures last week and practiced loading kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the rocket.
"We ran a hot fire campaign as a great high school test, so everything was done over a month ago," said Shaun O & # 39; Donnell, vice president of global operations at Rocket Lab. Wet clothing went very well, it was very easy, especially for our first race, so we are very confident. "
Ground crews at the launch site on the Mahia Peninsula, on the east coast of the southern island of New Zealand, planned to transfer the two: The stage rocket from its assembly hangar to the Complex 1 launch View of the Pacific Ocean Thursday, US time UU., A spokesman for Rocket Lab told Spaceflight Now.
The rocket will rise vertically in its launch frame, and Rocket Lab officials will evaluate the launcher's preparation The second launch of the Electron rocket takes place more than six months after Rocket Lab's first orbital launch attempt, which ended prematurely on May 25 when a ground tracking team that feeds data to the security team stopped receiving signals from the launcher about four minutes after takeoff.
The flight safety officer within the Rocket Lab launch control center followed the established procedure and issued the command to shut down the second-stage electron motor after the data fall.
The researchers traced the cause of the error to a software programming error in a tracking system provided by an external contractor and Rocket Lab's own ground systems operating in shadow mode on the inaugural flight – it did not suffer the same problem.
With a launch base, control center and factory in New Zealand, Rocket Lab also has a headquarters in Southern California, where it is equipping a second rocket assembly plant. Finally, with the aim of launching once a week, the US-New Zealand company operates under the FAA regulatory umbrella.
The FAA announced earlier this week that it issued a commercial launch license for the second flight of the Electron rocket.  The second Electron rocket is represented sideways in the Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab
The test flight of May 25, called "It's a test", showed a good performance of the Electron rocket's first stage, and the second-stage engine of the launcher went on and the fairing abandoned how it was designed before the mission ended. 19659003] The results raised hopes that Electron's second launch, dubbed "Still Testing" by Rocket Lab, could successfully reach orbit. The engineers also minimized the changes in the rocket, with the most significant improvement in the second stage, which will debut with propellant tanks stretched to accommodate more fuel, O & # 39; Donnell told Spaceflight Now.
"The performance we saw from the vehicle was really good," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from the Rocket Lab development facility in Auckland. "Actually, it was at the upper limits of the performance we expected, so that was really positive." [Thevehicleisalittlelongerthistime"saidO'Donnell"That'sjustastretchoftank"Itisnotrelatedtoanychangestotheenginesorotherfunctionalpartsofthevehicleandwiththegooddatawegotfromthatfirstreleasewearesurethatmostofthosesystemsaregoodwhichwasreallyreassuring"
But the next mission is still considered a demonstration, and Rocket Lab has a third one. An electron vehicle was built that could be launched at the beginning of 2018 on a third test flight, if necessary, before the company begins operations. operational launches. Officials at Rocket Lab said the commercial service could be accelerated to start at Electron's third launch if the second flight works well.
The weather outlook for the next few days at the launch site in New Zealand seems favorable, in contrast to the strong winds and clouds that delayed Electron's maiden launch in May for several days.
"Our climate limits are quite generous for the vehicle," O'Donnell said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. "We have pretty decent ground-level winds.
" One of our biggest problems is triboelectrification in high clouds, "O'Donnell said, referring to the potentially dangerous accumulation of static electricity in the rocket as It shoots through high-level clouds. "It's one of those things that can happen at any time of the year and can cause potential problems."
A dedicated team will monitor conditions in real time during the countdown if that climate takes a negative turn.
Refined kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen will be charged in both stages of the Electron rocket in the final hours of the countdown, and a final automated launch sequence will start at T-minus 2 minutes to monitor the last steps before takeoff
The nine Rutherford of the Electron main engines, mounted in a circular configuration in the form of network at the base of the first stage, they will light up at T-minus 2 seconds.
Rutherford's main engines, developed internally by Rocket Lab, will generate about 34,500 pounds of thrust at takeoff and power up to 41,500 pounds of thrust as the rocket climbs into the upper atmosphere. The Rutherford engines use electric turbo pumps, an innovation in the launch industry that first flew in the Electron rocket.
The first stage engines are scheduled to close about two and a half minutes into the flight, and the launch reinforcement to fall into the Pacific Ocean four seconds later. The ignition of the individual Rutherford motor of the second stage is programmed for T + plus 2 minutes, 36 seconds.
The separation of the cover of the electron nose, which covers the three CubeSats the size of a shoebox mounted on the launch, is planned for T + plus 3 minutes, 4 seconds.
The engine of the second stage is programmed to fire more than five and a half minutes to T + plus 8 minutes, 14 seconds. The burning of the second stage will be about 50 seconds longer than the expected shot at the first test launch of the electron, thanks to the expanded propellant tanks that extend about half a meter more than the tanks on the inaugural flight, O & O said. # 39; Donnell.
"It just gives us more payload, essentially, thanks to a longer recording time," O'Donnell said of the second-largest stage.
The three CubeSats – one from Planet and two from Spire Global – will launch the Maxwell deployers from Rocket Lab in T + plus 8 minutes, 31 seconds.
Planet & # 39; s CubeSat, called "Dove Pioneer", will join the company's fleet of terrestrial image satellites. Spire & # 39; s Lemur-2 CubeSats are used to track ship traffic and collect atmospheric measurements to help meteorologists.
Rocket Lab says it charges $ 4.9 million per Electron flight, significantly less than any other flight provider today, and offers a dedicated trip for payloads that currently have to travel on their backs with a higher payload.
The company has a launch contract to place several CubeSats in orbit for NASA next year, along with future launch agreements with Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight, which launches small satellite launches. of several commercial and scientific clients.
With money from venture capital funds in Silicon Valley and New Zealand, along with a strategic investment from Lockheed Martin, Rocket Lab completed the design and qualification of the Electron rocket with less than $ 100 million from the company. 2006, according to Beck.
Rocket Lab's progress was marked with test launches of more than 80 probe rockets since the formation of the company. If Electron's second mission reaches its orbit, it will mark the first orbital launch from New Zealand.
"What we are looking for (in the second launch) is only to close the last minues that we did not see in the first flight, where we are in orbit, we are completing the burn of the second stage and we are releasing some payloads, which It would really be the best, "said O & # 39; Donnell.
"It's still a test," he said. "Originally we had planned for three test flights, so we are fully prepared to run that third test if we do not get everything we need from it."
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