Rocket Lab launches 2 BlackSky Earth-observing satellites into orbit

Rocket Lab just sent two more private Earth-observation satellites skyward.

A Rocket Lab Electron launcher lifted off Saturday (April 2) at 8:41a.m. EST (1241 GMT) from the company's Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Pensula. The local time was 1:10 a.m. Sunday morning at the launch site.

The two-stage Electron rocket carried two spacecraft for the Virginia company BlackSky. They were successfully deployed about 40 minutes after liftoff.

"Payloads deployed another 100% mission success by the team," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) after the successful launch.

Related: Rocket Lab and its Electron booster (photos)

A Rocket Lab Electron launches two BlackSky Earth observation satellites into orbit from the company's Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula on April 2, 2022. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab, which dubbed this launch "Without Mission A Beat," did not attempt to recover the Electron's first stage during this launch. (Eventually, Rocket Lab plans to use a helicopter to pluck falling Electron first stages out of the sky; it has already done ocean booster recoveries on several previous missions.)

BlackSky and Rocket Lab are long-time partners, as Electrons have delivered most of BlackSky's constellation to orbit since 2019. Saturday's mission was arranged for BlackSky by the launch services provider Spaceflight Inc.

"BlackSky’s proprietary constellation has one of the highest hourly revisit rates in the world, providing customers with persistent monitoring and change detection over areas of economic activity across the globe," Rocket Lab said in its "Without Mission a Beat" press kit.

BlackSky satellites are used by government agencies along with a set of large companies known as the Global 2000, according to Rocket Lab. The platform for BlackSky, called Spectra AI, uses artificial intelligence techniques to automate the detection of fast-changing information for its customers.

"BlackSky is supporting critical day-to-day decision-making across a range of applications that include homeland security, supply chain intelligence, crisis management and response, critical infrastructure and economic intelligence," Rocket Lab stated.

BlackSky is also one of the companies that has been helping the world monitor the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24. 

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Rocket Lab has announced some upcoming missions (opens in new tab), including one scheduled for the second quarter of 2022 that will send three demonstration satellites aloft for the company E-Space. 

"E-Space aims to reduce the launch requirements for a full constellation to months instead of years — decreasing the time it takes to scale, replenish or deliver a full system," Rocket Lab stated (opens in new tab) of the recently announced contract.

Rocket Lab also plans launches on behalf of Earth imaging company Synspective, for Internet of Things satellite provider Kinéis, and for government customers like NASA and the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Other future missions are focused on orbital debris mitigation and Venus exploration, according to Rocket Lab's manifest (opens in new tab).

Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, with Pad A and the newly completed Pad B. (Image credit: Rocket Lab)

Saturday's launch took place just weeks after Rocket Lab announced it will build its next-generation Neutron rocket on Wallops Island, Virginia, near the company's coastal U.S. launch pad. (The company also debuted a new, second launch pad at its New Zealand site on Feb. 28, with a successful liftoff of an Electron booster.)

Neutron, which will be reusable, will send larger payloads to orbit than Electron. Rocket Lab has said the bigger Neutron rocket will heft larger sets of satellites into orbit, along with fuel-hungry interplanetary missions and potentially, even human missions. Neutron's planned first launch is in 2024.

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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