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Electron Launches South Korean Imaging Satellite and NASA Solar Sail

Rocket Lab successfully launched a South Korean imaging satellite and a NASA solar sail experiment on April 23, marking the company’s fifth flight of the year. The mission took place from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, with liftoff occurring at 6:32 p.m. Eastern Time. However, the launch faced a delay of nearly 20 minutes due to a ground equipment issue.

Payload Deployment

The Electron rocket’s kick stage, deployed from the upper stage nine minutes after liftoff, executed a series of maneuvers to deploy its two payloads into distinct orbits. Initially, the kick stage moved into a circular orbit at an altitude of 520 kilometers, releasing the NEONSAT-1 spacecraft approximately 50 minutes after liftoff. Subsequently, it transitioned into a 1,000-kilometer orbit before deploying the ACS3 satellite one hour and 45 minutes post-launch.

NEONSAT-1: South Korea’s Imaging Satellite

NEONSAT-1, weighing about 100 kilograms, serves as the primary payload of the mission. Developed by South Korea’s Satellite Technology Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, it is part of a larger constellation named New-space Earth Observation Satellite Constellation for National Safety. This constellation, comprising 11 spacecraft, is intended for both civil and national security applications.

ACS3: NASA’s Solar Sail Experiment

ACS3, the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, is a 12U cubesat developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in collaboration with NanoAvionics. Upon completion of post-launch checkouts, ACS3 will unfurl a solar sail with an area of 80 square meters. The primary objective is to test new, lightweight booms made of composite materials and a deployment system for the sail. Additionally, if successful, ACS3 will test its maneuvering capabilities using the solar sail.

Future Implications

Alan Rhodes, lead systems engineer for ACS3 at NASA Ames, expressed optimism regarding the mission’s potential impact. He noted that the verified technologies could inspire novel applications beyond their initial scope.

Rocket Lab’s Launch Plans

The April 23 launch marked Rocket Lab’s fifth flight of the year and its first in over a month since the National Reconnaissance Office mission on March 21 from Launch Complex 2 in Virginia. With 22 Electron launches planned for the year, including two of its HASTE suborbital version, the company continues to expand its launch capabilities and manifest.

In conclusion, the successful deployment of both NEONSAT-1 and ACS3 underscores the collaborative efforts between South Korea and NASA in advancing space exploration and satellite technology. Rocket Lab’s consistent launch cadence further solidifies its position as a key player in the space industry.

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