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Rocket Lab launches two more Earth observation satellites for BlackSky — and tracks a falling rocket

·2 min read
Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle rises from its New Zealand launch pad. (Rocket Lab via YouTube)
Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle rises from its New Zealand launch pad. (Rocket Lab via YouTube)

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

After stage separation, the Electron’s first-stage booster descended to a parachute-aided splashdown as a helicopter watched it fall and conducted communications tests in the recovery zone. “Best seat in the house,” Beck wrote in a tweet that included a view from the helicopter.

The exercise was part of Rocket Lab’s effort to develop a system for recovering and reusing its boosters. “We are all excited to move on to the next phase of reusability next year, catching Electron in the air with a helicopter,” Beck said in a post-launch news release.

Virginia-based BlackSky became a publicly traded company in September, under the ticker symbol BKSY. Its Gen-2 satellites are built in Tukwila, Wash., by LeoStella, a joint venture involving BlackSky (formerly known as Spaceflight Industries) and Thales Alenia Space.

BlackSky is aiming to fill out a constellation of 30 satellites by 2025 to feed frequently updated multispectral imagery to its AI-enabled software platform for geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT.

“With this launch, $BKSY remains on plan to grow its constellation by between two and four additional satellites by the end of 2021,” BlackSky tweeted. “The future of real time #GEOINT has never looked brighter!”

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