Rocket Lab launches radar satellite to orbit on 30th Electron mission

Rocket Lab's 30th Electron rocket sent a commercial radar satellite soaring to Earth orbit Thursday (Sept. 15).

The Electron booster lifted off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand site on the North Island's Mahia Peninsula on Thursday at 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT, or 8:38 a.m. local time on Friday, Sept. 16).

The livestreamed launch of the Strix-1 satellite on behalf of Synspective showed the rocket flying into the blue sky, with no technical issues reported during the launch. Strix-1 was deployed into its designated orbit, 350 miles (563 kilometers) above Earth, about 53 minutes after liftoff as planned, Rocket Lab said in an update via Twitter (opens in new tab).

Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photos)

A Rocket Lab Electron rocket carrying the Strix-1 radar satellite launches from a pad on Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand on Sept. 15, 2022 EDT (Sept. 16 local time). (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Thursday's mission was called "The Owl Spreads Its Wings," a nod to the Strix-1 payload. (Strix is a diverse and widespread genus of owls.)

"Strix-1 is Synspective's first commercial satellite for its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation to deliver imagery that can detect millimeter-level changes to the Earth's surface from space, independent of weather conditions on Earth and at any time of the day or night," Rocket Lab officials wrote in a mission description (opens in new tab).

Rocket Lab also successfully lofted Strix satellites for Synspective in December 2020 and February 2022. Those missions were named with owl themes as well.

A close-up of Rocket Lab's 30th Electron rocket as it carries a Synspective radar satellite — the 150th spacecraft carried by a Rocket Lab mission — to orbit on Sept. 15, 2022. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab officials framed this launch as a milestone mission: It was Rocket Lab's 30th Electron launch, bringing its 150th satellite into space and flying its 300th Rutherford engine.

The flight also followed Rocket Lab's successful launch of NASA's CAPSTONE probe to the moon. In addition, the company aims to send one or more life-hunting missions to Venus in the coming years.

Rocket Lab plans to make the first stage of Electron fully reusable, and has successfully fired up a booster recovered (and inadvertently dunked in the ocean) with a helicopter on May 2, during a mission called "There and Back Again." 

The company did not attempt a recovery on Thursday's launch, however, and Electron's first stage fell naturally into the drink after engine cutoff.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. EDT on Sept. 15 with news of successful satellite deploy.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace