Private spaceflight company Rocket Lab will launch its first mission for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) tonight (Jan. 30), and you can watch the liftoff live.
A two-stage Electron booster is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab's New Zealand launch site during a 4-hour window that opens at 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT and 1 p.m. local New Zealand time on Jan. 31). You can watch the launch live here on Space.com, courtesy of Rocket Lab, or directly via the company here.
The NRO operates the United States' fleet of spy satellites, and most details about these craft are classified. Not surprisingly, we don't know much about the payload going up tonight beyond its name, NROL-151.
Rocket Lab has launched 10 missions to date, and the California-based company has given a playful name to each one. Rocket Lab is keeping up that tradition with tonight's liftoff, which it has dubbed "Birds of a Feather."
"For more than six decades, the NRO has answered the hardest national security-related questions with bold, innovative technology, and NROL-151 stands firm in this tradition," Rocket Lab representatives wrote about the mission. "The NROL-151 mission logo is a light-hearted way to wish NROL-151 good fortune and launch on its mission."
Rocket Lab aims to greatly increase access to space with the 57-foot-tall (17 meters) Electron, which can carry about 500 lbs. (227 kilograms) to orbit on each roughly $5 million liftoff. The company's vision includes reusing Electron first stages, which Rocket Lab aims to pluck out of the sky with a helicopter as they descend postlaunch.
There will be no such dramatic aerial capture during tonight's mission. But Rocket Lab will attempt to guide the first stage back down to Earth in a controlled fashion, in preparation for that big next step. Birds of a Feather will mark the second such controlled descent for Rocket Lab; the company pulled it off on its most recent launch, which took place in December.
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- Tour Rocket Lab's stunning New Zealand launch site in this video
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com 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.