Update at 9:55 p.m. ET: Rocket Lab has successfully launched two NASA TROPICS satellites into orbit to study tropical storms and hurricanes on Earth. Watch the launch video and read our full story.
Rocket Lab will launch the first set of NASA storm-monitoring satellites on Sunday (May 7), and you can watch everything live.
Two NASA Tropics Constellation satellites (time-bound observations of precipitation structure and storm intensity with a constellation of small satellites) will be launched from Mahae, New Zealand no later than 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT Monday, May 8). Coverage of the launch will be streamed live here on Space.com courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT on May 8).
The mission, called “Rocket Like a Hurricane,” is the first of two projected Rocket Lab missions that will carry the TROPICS satellites aloft. The next film, dubbed Coming to a Storm Near You, is expected to follow within weeks, conditional on a successful first launch.
Related: Rocket Lab to launch two missions for NASA’s hurricane-watching constellation
The first batch of TROPICS satellites was supposed to be launched on June 12, 2022, but the cubes were lost during the failure of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 booster. (Astra later canceled the entire Rocket 3 line amid numerous failures, and is making several design changes for a new generation, called Rocket 4.)
NASA then turned to 13 pre-approved suppliers to quickly relaunch the TROPICS program, citing “urgent” hurricane tracking needs, in October 2022. Picked in November (Opens in a new tab), and promised to deliver four cubes to two low Earth orbiters within 60 days. Later, Rocket Lab chose to send satellites aloft from New Zealand quickly Even earlier than the launch date (Opens in a new tab) from its planned initial launch site in Virginia, to anticipate the 2023 Northern Hemisphere storm season.
Rocket Lab officials described the launch of TROPICS as “particularly special”. on Twitter (Opens in a new tab) Wednesday (April 26), citing the devastating effects of Hurricane Gabriel in New Zealand earlier this year. The statement added: “It is a great honor to launch satellites tasked with monitoring tropical storms and providing practical data for those in the paths of storms.”
An Electron rocket, which is 59 feet (18 meters) high, can send about 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of payload into low Earth orbit. The launch is supported by nine 3D-printed Rutherford engines in its first stage and second stage; The upper “kick stage” then sends the satellites into their assigned orbits.
Rocket Lab has sent more than 30 high orbit missions, using expendable electrons. But the company has recovered electron boosters from six different orbital launches, and instrument tests indicate that reuse may be an option. The company also plans to launch the used Rutherford engine in the third quarter of 2023.
At first, Rocket Lab tried to catch the falling booster with helicopters, but after instrumental analyses, the first electron stages seemed to work just fine after being submerged in the ocean. So the company is now focusing on water recovery “as the primary method for recovering electrons for re-flight,” Rocket Lab officials wrote in March.
Rocket Lab does not plan to recover the electrons for any of the TROPICS launches, however, the company Written in the task description (Opens in a new tab).
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (Opens in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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