Electron liftoff carrying "Four Of A Kind" mission. Credits: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab Launches Four SSA Satellites in its First Mission of the Year

Rocket Lab launched its first mission of 2024 delivering four Space Situational Awareness satellites for Spire Global, on behalf of NorthStar

On Jan. 31, at 06:34 UTC, Rocket Lab carried out its first launch of 2024. An Electron rocket lifted off from Pad B at Launch Complex 1 (LC-1) in New Zealand. The “Four Of A Kind” mission delivered and deployed four Space Situational Awareness (SSA) satellites for Spire Global, on behalf of NorthStar. The launch, initially scheduled for fall 2023, suffered some delays due to last September’s Electron failure. Beforehand, NorthStar intended to entrust Virgin Orbit with the satellite launch, then shifted to Rocket Lab due to the bankruptcy of Branson’s company.

Electron liftoff carrying "Four Of A Kind" mission. Credits: Rocket Lab
Electron liftoff carrying “Four Of A Kind” mission. Credits: Rocket Lab

Nearly two and half minutes after liftoff the second stage separated from the booster, which splashed down in the ocean 15 minutes later and was then recovered. At T+09:24 the Kick Stage separated from the second stage. Roughly one hour later, all the payloads were successfully released into a 530 km Sun-synchronous orbit.

This was the 1st Electron launch of the year, the 43rd in total, with the 9th recovery attempt. Rocket Lab aims at launching 22 missions in 2024, requiring a rate of two launches per month, more than double compared to last year.


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The payloads

The “Four Of A Kind” mission, as the name suggests, deployed the first four 16U satellites of the future NorthStar’s constellation dedicated to commercial space-based Space Situational Awareness services. The payloads were integrated into Exolaunch’s EXOpod Nova deployers, which released them in orbit.

This constellation will enable the Canadian company to effectively monitor all near-Earth orbits, tracking in real-time space objects. SSA services will thus offer accurate crucial information for orbit determination, collision avoidance, navigation, and proximity alerts.

SSA satellites. Credits: Spire Global Inc.
SSA satellites in orbit. Credits: Spire Global Inc.

The spacecraft were built and will be operated by Spire Global Inc. as part of a space-as-a-service agreement signed in March 2022. The US company is a leading global provider of space-based data, analytics, and space services through a large constellation of nanosatellites. The satellites were developed based on Spire’s Low Earth Multi-Use Receiver (LEMUR) CubeSat platform.

“NorthStar is proud to be working with like-minded leaders at Rocket Lab and Spire. NorthStar’s SSA services will provide unparalleled coverage in tracking resident space objects to enable enhanced decision making by satellite operators.”

— Stewart Bain, CEO of NorthStar

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More about Electron

Electron is a small-lift launch vehicle developed by Rocket Lab, capable of carrying up to 300 kg of payload to LEO. It is a 3D-printed rocket consisting of two stages with an optional third stage, usually the company’s Kick Stage.

An Electron booster sitting horizontal inside RocketLab's HQ, with a silver coating: thermal protection system upgrade.
An Electron booster with a thermal protection system upgrade for reusability. Credits: Rocket Lab

The first stage is powered by nine RP-1/LOx Rutherford engines and can be recovered through a parachute-assisted descent and splashdown at sea. The booster is then recovered by a Seaworker’s vessel, periodically chartered by Rocket Lab for recovery operations. The second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized Rutherford, while the Kick Stage is equipped with a Curie engine.

Rocket Lab is also operating HASTE, a dedicated version of Electron for the testing of Hypersonic technologies in suborbital flights. The company is developing Neutron, a medium-lift reusable rocket, expected to be launched in 2025.


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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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