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Cosmic Space

Robotic probe begins monthslong voyage to the moon

A robotic probe that’s meant to blaze a trail for astronauts has begun a slow and steady trek to the moon, thanks to a launch from New Zealand on a commercial rocket.

NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, also known as Capstone, lifted off from Rocket Lab’s launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula atop an Electron rocket at 2:55 a.m. PT (9:55 p.m. local time) today.

Because Rocket Lab’s Electron has far less oomph than, say, a Saturn V or Space Launch System rocket, the microwave oven-sized spacecraft will be sent along a leisurely, looping route that takes advantage of the gravitational pulls of the moon, the sun and Earth.

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Universe Today

Rocket Lab catches (and releases) a rocket

Rocket Lab has just joined SpaceX in the club of space companies that can launch an orbital-class rocket booster and bring it back alive.

In a sense, the California-based company one-upped SpaceX by having a helicopter snag the first-stage booster of its Electron rocket with a cable and a hook as it floated past on the end of a parachute, 6,500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

So what if the pilots of the customized Sikorsky S-92 helicopter had to release the booster moments later, due to concerns about the way their load was behaving as it swung from the hook?

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GeekWire

Seattle’s Space Needle rises on a space mission patch

What could be more fitting than to put Seattle’s Space Needle on the patch for an actual space mission?

Even though this particular mission is due to be launched half a world away, there’s more than one Seattle connection to the Rocket Lab mission that’s due for liftoff as early as April 1.

The payloads for the launch from Rocket Lab’s base on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula are two satellites built by a Seattle-area manufacturer, LeoStella, for BlackSky’s Earth-observing constellation. LeoStella is a joint venture co-owned by Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian venture; and BlackSky, which is based in the Washington, D.C., area but has a Seattle office.

Most significantly, preparations for the launch were handled by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc., which specializes in making the arrangements for putting small satellites like BlackSky’s spacecraft into orbit.

On the patch for the mission, whimsically dubbed “Without Mission a Beat,” the Space Needle rises to the right of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle.

“It’s a great patch, no?” Jodi Sorensen, Spaceflight Inc.’s vice president of marketing, said in a tweet. “The Needle’s a nod to @SpaceflightInc, and we love it!”

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GeekWire

Rocket Lab launches two satellites for BlackSky

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

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GeekWire

Space Force awards $87.5 million for rocket development

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command today announced awards totaling $87.5 million to support prototype commercial projects relating to next-generation rocket testing and enhancements to make upper stages more resilient.

The awards were made under the aegis of the National Security Space Launch program using the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium, which facilitates engagement involving the Pentagon space community, industry and academia.

The awards include:

  • $24.35 million to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture for cryogenic fluid management on the New Glenn rocket’s second stage.
  • $24.35 million to Rocket Lab to develop the Neutron rocket’s upper stage.
  • $14.47 million to SpaceX for rapid throttling and restart testing of the Raptor rocket engine, which is destined for use on SpaceX’s Starship rocket, liquid methane specification development and testing; and combustion stability analysis and testing.
  • $24.35 million to United Launch Alliance for uplink command and control for the Centaur V upper stage, which will be used with ULA’s Vulcan rocket.
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GeekWire

Two BlackSky satellites lost due to launch failure

Two satellites for BlackSky’s Earth observation constellation were lost today when the second stage of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle suffered an anomaly, just minutes after liftoff from New Zealand.

Rocket Lab said the mission failure was under investigation. “The issue occurred shortly after stage two ignition,” the company said in a tweet.

The live stream for launch showed what appeared to be a successful launch at 11:11 p.m. New Zealand time (4:11 a.m. PT), followed by a stage separation that went according to plan. However, it looked as if the second stage’s rocket engine shut down and failed to push the satellites to orbit.

The satellites were built by Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella for BlackSky, which splits its staff between offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va. Pre-launch logistics for the mission were handled by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.

“We are deeply sorry to our customers Spaceflight Inc. and BlackSky for the loss of their payloads,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “We understand the monumental effort that goes into every spacecraft and we feel their loss and disappointment.”

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GeekWire

How BlackSky builds its intelligence network

Satellites for BlackSky’s constellation of Earth-watching spacecraft may be launched from as far away as New Zealand, but their path to orbit features prominent stops in the Seattle area.

BlackSky’s Global satellites are designed and built at LeoStella’s factory in Tukwila, Wash., not far from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. handled the pre-launch logistics for May 15’s liftoff of two satellites atop a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. And BlackSky itself splits its staff between Herndon, Va., and the company’s original home base in Seattle.

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GeekWire

BlackSky’s latest satellite goes to work on Day One

That didn’t take long: BlackSky says the latest Earth observation satellite in its growing constellation delivered its first imagery less than a day after it was launched into orbit from New Zealand on March 22.

Once the BlackSky 7 satellite was deployed from the kick stage on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle, it took mere hours for BlackSky’s team to check out the satellite and downlink pictures. Those pictures were then analyzed by BlackSky’s Spectra AI suite of machine language algorithms to identify points of interest.

For example, one of the images could be used to track progress on Perth’s Waterbank urban development site in Australia — a billion-dollar project that’s generated its share of controversy over the years.

BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said the 24-hour turnaround demonstrates how quickly BlackSky’s geospatial data platform can respond to global developments.

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GeekWire

Rocket Lab lofts satellites for NRO, NASA, Australia

Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket lofted a bevy of small satellites into orbit tonight for the National Reconnaissance Office, NASA and a project backed by the Australian government and the University of New South Wales Canberra Space.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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GeekWire

Rocket Lab launches top-secret payload for NRO

After waiting out high winds, Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket launched a top-secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from New Zealand, halfway around the world from the U.S. spy satellite agency’s headquarters.

Get the news brief from GeekWire.