Sunday’s successful rocket launch by Kiwi company Rocket Lab heralded not only the first commercial launch for the company, but also the launch of the first CubeSats from an Australian firm.
Adelaide-based IoT startup Fleet Space Technologies, used Rocket Lab’s ‘It’s Business Time’ mission to launch two 1.5U satellites which will be the foundation of a global IoT communications constellation.
Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle lifted off from the Mahia Peninsula on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand at 16.50 on Sunday, deploying six satellites into low earth orbit. Around an hour later the Curie module, which successfully separated from Electron on orbit, also deployed a drag sail technology demonstrator, designed and built by High Performance Space Structure Systems, to passively de-orbit inactive small satellites and reduce space junk.
The two Fleet Promixa satellites are the first of a fleet of more than 100 small, low cost nanosatellites, weighing less than 10kg and about the size of a shoebox, that will provide internet connectivity for millions of sensor devices in remote locations around the world.
The Fleet satellites are the first commercial tests of Fleet’s software-defined radios which will be used to transmit data across S-band and L-band frequencies in space.
Also on the manifest were two Spire Global Lemur-2 satellites, an Irvine CubeSat STEM program educational CubeSat, and a Tyvak Nano-Satellite System-built GeoOptics satellite.
Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and chief executive, says the mission marks a new era in access to space.
“The world is waking up to the new normal. With the Electron launch vehicle, rapid and reliable access to space is now a reality for small satellites,” Beck says.
Rocket Lab, which says its mission is ‘to open access to space to improve life on earth’ was founded by Beck. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla later invested in the company which opened a corporate headquarters in the United States. The company has successfully deployed 11 satellites.
The successful mission will be followed in a matter of weeks by another, this time for NASA. The NASA mission will see the deployment of ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) CubeSats which will conduct a range of new, on-orbit science and technology demonstrations and research, including measuring radiation in the Van Allen belts to understand their impact on spacecraft and demonstrating new technology such as a solar sail blade.
The December mission will be the first launch for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services, constituting the smallest class of dedicated launch services used by the agency.
Rocket Lab is using a rapid manifest process taking just weeks, which it says will enable it to provide ‘flexible and frequent launch opportunities’.
“This approach supports commercial companies and governments alike to rapidly deploy space-based assets and get them operational faster,” says Beck.