Rocket Lab scrubs latest satellite launch with just minutes to go

[See update at end of article]

Strong winds forced Rocket Lab to scrub its latest small-satellite mission just minutes before liftoff from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula on Thursday evening local time. The team paused the countdown clock several times during the launch window, but it eventually ran out of time.

California-based Rocket Lab said there should be another launch opportunity in the coming days.

The mission had an earlier launch date of March 30 but ended up suffering delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rocket Lab’s 11th mission in just over two years will see the small-satellite launch company send a slew of payloads skyward for NASA, a U.S. spy satellite agency, and two universities, namely Boston University in Massachusetts and the University of South Wales in Australia.

As part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, Boston University’s load comprises several small satellites, including the ANDESITE (Ad-Hoc Network Demonstration for Extended Satellite-Based Inquiry and Other Team Endeavors) created by electrical and mechanical engineering students and professors. The satellite will carry out groundbreaking scientific research into Earth’s magnetic field, tracking electric currents flowing in and out of the atmosphere. “These variations in the electrical activity racing through space can have a big impact on our lives here on Earth, causing interruptions to things like radio communications and electrical systems,” California-based Rocket Lab said.

The mission will also carry three payloads designed, built, and operated by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). As you might expect from such an organization, details of the payloads are scant, though Rocket Lab says the mission will enable the NRO “to explore new launch opportunities that provide a streamlined, commercial approach for getting small satellites into space.”

Finally, a collaboration between the University of New South Wales Canberra Space and the Australian government will send the M2 Pathfinder satellite aimed at testing communications architecture and other technologies that will assist in informing the future space capabilities of Australia.

Founded by New Zealander Peter Beck in 2006, Rocket Lab is seeking to grab a slice of the rideshare market for small-satellite launches using its specially built Electron rocket. Companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Orbit, among others, also have a strong interest in the same sector.

Like SpaceX, Rocket Lab is creating a reusable rocket system that will allow it to dramatically reduce operating costs. But whereas SpaceX’s system lands the first-stage booster shortly after launch, Rocket Lab is taking an altogether different approach as it seeks to use a helicopter with a grappling hook to pluck a falling booster out of the sky as it returns to Earth. It recently demonstrated the feat in a test run using a dummy rocket. Thursday’s mission, however, will not involve booster recovery.

The company said it has named its latest mission “Don’t Stop Me Now” in recognition of Rocket Lab board member and avid Queen fan Scott Smith, who recently passed away.

UPDATE: Rocket Lab achieved a successful launch of the rocket on Saturday, June 13. You can watch the lift-off in the video below:

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