Rocket Lab launches first Electron mission of busy 2024 launch schedule

Line of Defence Magazine - Update

Rocket Lab
Electron's first stage awaits recovery operations to retrieve it following a successful return to Earth from space. Image: Business Wire.

The ‘Four Of A Kind’ mission also included a successful splashdown of Electron’s first stage from the ocean after launch, furthering Rocket Lab’s efforts to make Electron the world’s first reusable small orbital rocket.

Rocket Lab launched its first Electron mission for 2024, a space-junk focused mission for Spire Global, Inc (“Spire”) and NorthStar Earth & Space (“NorthStar”), on 31 January.

The ‘Four Of A Kind’ mission for Spire’s customer NorthStar successfully launched from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand at 19:34 NZDT. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket deployed four Space Situational Awareness (SSA) satellites to a 530km circular Earth orbit where the satellites, built and operated by Spire, will monitor near-Earth objects from space to provide precise information for space object detection, tracking, orbit determination, collision avoidance, navigation, and proximity alerts.

The mission also resulted in the successful return of the rocket’s first stage after launch as part of Rocket Lab’s plan to evolve Electron into a reusable rocket. 

The mission was Rocket Lab’s 43rd Electron launch overall, bringing the company’s record of successfully deployed satellites to 176. The mission was the first of a busy launch year for Rocket Lab, with the company scheduled to launch more in 2024 than any previous year since the company began missions in 2017.

The mission also resulted in the successful return of the rocket’s first stage after launch as part of Rocket Lab’s plan to evolve Electron into a reusable rocket. After launch and stage separation, Electron’s booster made its way back to Earth under a parachute and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at approximately 17 minutes post lift-off.

Rocket Lab’s recovery operations were underway to retrieve the stage and bring it back to the Company’s production complex for a post-launch review and analysis before proceeding to one of the program’s final tasks: reusing a previously-launched first stage on a future mission.

“The success of today’s mission to deliver Spire & NorthStar to orbit, and the completion of our secondary mission to return Electron to Earth after launch, has been a fantastic start of what is set to be Rocket Lab’s busiest year ever,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “We have more missions booked in 2024 than we’ve ever scheduled before, and it is a real privilege to continue to deliver small launch reliability for our satellite customers on advanced missions like these and for all the missions to come in 2024.”

‘Four Of A Kind’ is Rocket Lab’s first Electron launch in a sold-out 2024 mission manifest that includes multiple upcoming launches for NASA; hypersonic technology tests on suborbital HASTE missions from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 in Virginia; the beginning or continuation of block launches for satellite operators BlackSky, Synspective, and Kineis; and several other launches for commercial and defence sector mission partners.