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  • Satellite Evolution

US Space Force satellite to launch from Rocket Lab USA’s New Zealand site on Electron rocket

The US Space Force will launch an experimental research and development satellite to low Earth orbit from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula on July 29, using Long Beach, California-based Rocket Lab USA’s Electron launch vehicle. The two-hour launch window opens at 6 p.m. New Zealand Time (2 am Eastern, 11 pm Pacific, July 28).

The mission was procured by the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP) and the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), both part of the USSF’s Space and Missile Systems Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

This launch, in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI), is named ‘It’s a Little Chile Up Here’ in a nod to the beloved green chile of New Mexico where the Space Test Program is based, and is being managed by SMC Launch Enterprise’s RSLP, which is part of the USSF’s launch service of choice.

The upcoming Rocket Lab launch is a follow-on effort to an earlier mission under the same agreement and one of several planned launches in 2021 that will demonstrate the ability of the emerging small launch industry to provide responsive and affordable space access for the USSF and the DoD.

“Our USSF looks forward to this upcoming mission with Rocket Lab USA from their New Zealand launch site. This STP-27RM launch demonstrates SMC’s continuous drive for innovation, flexibility and responsiveness,” said Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, chief of SMC Launch Enterprise’s Small Launch and Targets Division.

Monolith is an Air Force Research Lab program designed to explore the application of small satellites for DoD programs. The demonstration will determine if the 6U (2x3x1) or 12U (2x3x2) bus sizes can be configured such that a large deployable sensor can be installed in one of the 2x3x1 side faces. This satellite will further explore and demonstrate the use of a deployable sensor, where the sensor’s mass is a substantial fraction of the total mass of the spacecraft, changing the spacecraft’s dynamic properties and testing our ability to maintain spacecraft attitude control.

Analysis from the use of a deployable sensor will enable the US to use a smaller bus when building future deployable sensors such as weather satellites, thereby reducing the cost, complexity, and development timelines. The satellite will also provide a platform to test future space protection capabilities.


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