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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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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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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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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.

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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.

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Rocket Lab begins building third launch pad

Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1
An artist’s conception shows Rocket Lab’s Pad 1-B at the upper corner of its Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. (Rocket Lab Illustration)

Just days after officially opening its Virginia launch pad, Rocket Lab announced today that it has started construction of yet another pad at its original New Zealand home base.

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Rocket Lab’s Virginia pad opens for business

Rocket Lab opening
With Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck at center, dignitaries gather at Launch Complex 2 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Virginia’s Wallops Island. (NASA Wallops Photo)

Rocket Lab today celebrated the opening of a launch complex on the Virginia coast, half a world away from its first launch pad in New Zealand.

The California-based company’s New Zealand-born CEO, Peter Beck, announced that the first liftoff from Launch Complex 2 at Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island would put an experimental satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force early next year. The Air Force’s Monolith nanosatellite will test a miniaturized system that’s designed to keep track of space weather.

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Rocket Lab launches shooting-star satellite

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifted off from its New Zealand launch pad today, sending a shooting-star satellite and six other miniaturized satellites into orbit.

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Spaceflight helps out with shooting-star satellite

ALE-2 satellite
An artist’s conception shows the ALE-2 shooting-star satellite in orbit. (ALE / Spaceflight Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s handling the pre-launch logistics for a Japanese satellite that’s designed to spray artificial shooting stars into the sky.

Tokyo-based ALE’s spacecraft is just one of seven satellites due to be sent into orbit from New Zealand as early as Nov. 25, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle.

It’ll be the 10th Electron launch, earning the nickname “Running Out of Fingers.” It’ll also be the first launch to test the guidance and navigation hardware as well as the sensors that Rocket Lab will eventually use to help make the Electron’s first stage recoverable.

No recovery will be attempted during this mission.

The shooting-star satellite, ALE-2, is already making headlines in New Zealand. It’s designed to release particles from its sun-synchronous orbit below the International Space Station’s altitude, according to a timed schedule. When the particles re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, they’re supposed to burn up and create the appearance of meteors as seen from the ground.

In addition to the entertainment factor, ALE says scientists participating in the Sky Canvas project will be able to study the path of the particles during re-entry. That could lead to more accurate predictions of the path of satellites during orbital decay, and perhaps contribute to studies of weather and climate change.

“This launch gets us much closer to realizing the world’s first man-made shooting star,” ALE’s CEO, Lena Okajima, said in a news release. “We really appreciate Spaceflight`s support and attention to our mission, and we’re honored to take this big step with them.”

Some observers say the Sky Canvas project will be a distraction for astronomers as well as an attraction for skywatchers. Similar examples include the “Humanity Star” disco-ball satellite that Rocket Lab launched in 2018, and SpaceX’s first batch of 60 Starlink satellites.

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Rocket Lab launches a foursome of satellites

Rocket Lab Electron launch
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from its launch pad in New Zealand. (Rocket Lab via YouTube)

Rocket Lab sent a foursome of satellites into orbit today for a threesome of customers, including the Seattle-based BlackSky Earth-watching venture.

BlackSky’s sibling subsidiary, Spaceflight, handled the prelaunch logistics for the Global-4 satellite and for a pair of experimental U.S. Air Force satellites. The fourth spacecraft in the set is the first satellite for what’s destined to become a maritime surveillance constellation fielded by a French venture called UnseenLabs.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket rose from the company’s launch pad on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 12:12 a.m. local time Aug. 20 (5:12 a.m. PT Aug. 19). It successfully went through second-stage separation and fired up its kick stage to deploy the satellites into a 335-mile-high, medium-inclination orbit.

“That’s now eight Electron launches to date and a total of 39 satellites delivered to orbit,” Rocket Lab said in a tweet.

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