Rocket Lab targets early Saturday for microsatellite launch

A Rocket Lab Electron booster stands on the pad in New Zealand ahead of the planned Jan. 16 launch of the "Another Leaves the Crust" mission.
A Rocket Lab Electron booster stands on the pad in New Zealand ahead of the planned Jan. 16 launch of the "Another Leaves the Crust" mission. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Update for 5:00 p.m. EST on Jan. 18: Rocket Lab called off the Jan. 16 launch attempt of the "Another One Leaves the Crust" mission, citing a need to review sensor data. The company is now targeting 1:45 a.m. EST (0645 GMT) on Jan. 20.

Rocket Lab's first launch of 2021 will take place this weekend, if all goes according to plan.

The "Another One Leaves the Crust" mission is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand launch site on Saturday (Jan. 16), during a 7-minute window that opens at 2:38 a.m. EST (0738 GMT; 8:38 p.m. local New Zealand time.)

If Rocket Lab's Electron booster can't get off the ground that day, there will be other chances: The launch window extends through Jan. 25, with the targeted liftoff time the same on each day, company representatives said.

In photos: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster

"Another One Leaves the Crust" will loft a communications microsatellite for the European space technology company OHB Group.

"As a respected leader in space, OHB Group has been providing access to orbit through rideshare opportunities and dedicated launches on medium- and large-size rockets for many years," Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement last August, when the contract with OHB Group was announced. 

"We’re excited to be enabling a new capability for OHB and its mission partners by delivering rapid turnaround, dedicated small satellite launch on Electron," Beck said. "Missions like this one put small satellite operators in the driver’s seat, giving them control over their launch schedule and orbit, on their terms."

The upcoming launch will be the 18th overall for the two-stage, 58-foot-tall (18 meters) Electron, which gives small satellites dedicated rides to orbit. Rocket Lab is working to make the Electron's first stage reusable; on a November 2020 mission, the company successfully steered a booster down to a soft, parachute-aided ocean splashdown and fished it out of the sea for inspection.

More such action is in the offing, but not on "Another One Leaves the Crust."

"No recovery attempt on this mission, but more recovery missions to come this year!" Rocket Lab said via Twitter last week.

As the upcoming flight indicates, Rocket Lab likes to give its missions playful, light-hearted names. The 10th Electron mission was called "Running Out of Fingers," for example, and the one that featured the booster recovery was called "Return to Sender."

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.