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  • Satellite Evolution

Rocket Lab successfully launches first batch of TROPICS satellites for NASA

Rocket Lab USA, Inc., a leading launch and space systems company, today successfully completed the first of two dedicated Electron launches to deploy a constellation of tropical cyclone monitoring satellites for NASA.

Electron lifts off from Launch Complex 1 for the 'Rocket Like a Hurricane' launch to deploy satellites for NASA's TROPICS constellation

The ‘Rocket Like a Hurricane’ launch lifted-off on May 8 at 13:00 NZST (01:00 UTC) from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula deploying two of the four CubeSats that comprise the TROPICS constellation (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats). TROPICS will monitor the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, and will provide rapidly updating observations of storm intensity.


The constellation, which is part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program, requires launch to 550 kilometers altitude and inclination of about 30 degrees. Each pair of CubeSats must be launched to two specific orbital planes that are equally spaced 180 degrees opposite to maximize the temporal resolution. These unique orbits over Earth’s tropics allow the satellites to travel over any given storm about once an hour compared with current weather tracking satellites that have a timing of about once every six hours. This high revisit rate aims to help scientists better understand the processes that effect these high-impact storms, ultimately leading to improved modeling and prediction to help protect lives and livelihoods. All four TROPICS satellites need to be deployed into their operational orbit within a 60-day period, a mission requirement made possible with small dedicated launch. With the first batch of TROPICS CubeSats now in orbit, the second launch, called ‘Coming to a Storm Near You,’ is expected to launch on another Electron rocket in approximately two weeks from Launch Complex 1.


“The TROPICS constellation has the real potential to save lives by providing more timely data about storm intensity and providing advance warning to those in storm paths, so it’s an immense privilege to have deployed these spacecraft to their precise orbits before the upcoming storm season,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We’re grateful to the NASA team for entrusting us with such a critical mission and we look forward to completing the constellation with the second Electron launch in the coming days.”


“We are extremely proud of all our partners, including MIT Lincoln Labs, Blue Canyon Technologies, KSAT, and Rocket Lab for successfully executing on this first launch. We look forward to the entire constellation being on-orbit to realize the benefits for the agency, as well as for our colleagues around the world,” said Ben Kim, TROPICS program executive for NASA’s Earth Science Division.


‘Rocket Like a Hurricane’ was Rocket Lab’s fourth mission for 2023 and the Company’s 36th Electron mission overall. It brings the total number of satellites launched to orbit by Rocket Lab to 161.

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